3-1 or 2-2 in rivalry games
Entering every season, earning a split against rivals New Mexico and UTEP is a respectable result.
This Aggies group seemed different though.
A win at the Pit for the first time in nine years and a blowout win over UTEP at home made a season sweep of the four games seem realistic.
After all, it happened to the Aggies last year.
A recent three-game losing streak — including a 73-69 loss at UTEP — has taken the luster off a 4-0 start to the season.
A win Wednesday would match the four-game win streak the Aggies had to the start the season and doing it at home would restore casual fans’ excitement in the team just in time for conference play, which is truly what matters most to the team’s postseason hopes.
By the time the season ends, UNM could be the best team the Aggies face all year. The Lobos are currently riding an eight-game win streak and stand at 10-2.
The season looked bleak for UTEP early on, but the Miners picked up wins over lower tier teams from the ACC and SEC over the weekend.
The truth is that the Aggies and their fans shouldn’t be disappointed with a split against UTEP and UNM on the year.
But both groups recognized that this year was to be different.
It still can be.
Will the real Aggies please stand up
Wednesday’s game should provide an indication of how good the Aggies are going to be for the rest of the season.
The Aggies are well rested, relatively healthy and playing at home against a good team. They will be up for this game.
The Aggies can’t afford a slow start against the Lobos even if they have been pulling away from teams in the second half. Although the Aggies have won three straight, they haven’t shown the sustained defensive effort for 40 minutes that limited New Mexico to 28 percent shooting (4-for-21 in the second half) in the first meeting.
Is this NMSU team the team that shot 28 percent in the first half or the team that shot 60 percent in the second half and outscored the Lobos 36-22 in the second half to pull out the program’s biggest win since the 2010 Western Athletic Conference Tournament title game?
Williams and Lobos on a roll
UNM has won eight straight and nine of its last 10.
Sophomore guard Tony Snell is the Lobos best scorer at 13.3 points per game and senior forward Drew Gordon may be their best player. An argument could be made for sophomore point guard Kendall Williams as the team’s most important player.
Williams was 0-for-9 from the field with five turnovers against the Aggies in Albuquerque. He has since had 17 points in a win over Washington State, 19 points in a win over Missouri State and 16 in a win over Oklahoma State.
While the Lobos are among the best teams on the Aggies’ schedule, the same could also be said for the Lobos. UNM’s loss to the Aggies is the Lobos’ only game against a team with a Top 100 RPI ranking. By comparison, three of the Aggies’ four losses are to teams in the top 100, including twice to Southern Mississippi, ranked No. 3.
Wednesday’s game features two of the Top 20 individual rebounders in the country.
Aggies senior Wendell McKines is tied for 18th in the nation with 10.1 rebounds per game and UNM’s Gordon is tied at 13th with 10.5 per game. McKines has set back-to-back career highs this year with 16 and 17 respectively in the Aggies’ last two games. Gordon’s season includes a 20-rebound performance against Oklahoma State.
The Aggies have the edge in team rebounding. NMSU is 17th nationally with 37.2 rebounds per game. They are also 26th in rebounding percentage, meaning the Aggies pull down 57.3 percent of rebounds. UNM is 40th at 56.2 percent.
The teams were even at 38-38 on the boards in Albuquerque. Rebounding will likely play a bigger factor Wednesday.
Take care and share
The Aggies are at their best when the ball is moving, especially when the Lobos drop back and play zone as they showed at times in the first meeting.
NMSU had 17 assists in the first game and averaged 15.2 assists per game through the first six games. The Aggies have dropped to 10.7 assists per game the past six games and currently average 12.9 assists per game. UNM is 15th nationally with 17.2 assists per game. The Lobos also lead the country in assist to basket ratio, meaning the Lobos have assists on 70.6 percent of their made field goals. By comparison, 52 percent of the Aggies’ made field goals are assisted.
Although turnovers have crept upward for the Aggies recently, both teams do a good job creating turnovers while keeping their turnovers down. NMSU commits 15.4 turnovers per game while forcing 16 per game. The Lobos commit 14.7 turnovers per game and force 16.5.