GAME NOTES: Facing off against a nationally-ranked opponent from the Mountain West Conference for the second time in as many games, the Fresno State Bulldogs pay a visit to 25th-ranked New Mexico in The Pit on Saturday afternoon.
On Wednesday the Bulldogs, one of the new additions to the MWC who came over from the Western Athletic Conference, took on 16th-ranked San Diego State and nearly pulled off the upset before suffering the 65-62 setback at the Save Mart Center in the league opener. The defeat was the fifth in the last six games for a Fresno State program which is the only one in the MWC entering the weekend with a losing record overall.
As for the Lobos, a squad which produced a 12-game win streak immediately out of the gate, they've split their last four outings. Also in action three nights ago, New Mexico survived a close call of its own against 24th-ranked UNLV in the conference opener, holding on for a 65-60 win at home.
The Lobos hold a slight 8-7 lead in the all-time series against Fresno State, but they are a perfect 6-0 at home in the relationship. New Mexico, which used to team with the Bulldogs in the Western Athletic Conference before several schools split off to form the MWC, won the most recent meeting back in 1999 by a score of 83-81.
Like every other team that suits up against San Diego State, the Bulldogs knew that they had to slow down Jamaal Franklin on Wednesday night and they failed to get the job done as the star guard finished with 20 points and 18 rebounds, both of which were game-highs. On FSU's side, Kevin Foster tried to give the hosts a fighting chance with his 18 points and seven rebounds, while Kevin Olekaibe stepped up with 15 points, but as has been the case quite often for the guard, he had trouble shooting the ball at only about 36 percent from the floor. Then again, the team as a whole connected on only 36.2 percent in a game that featured four ties and six lead changes. The leading scorer last season for the Bulldogs, Olekaibe has tempered his aggressive nature and is producing just 9.0 ppg, shooting 33.6 percent from the field. Tyler Johnson is the lone double-digit scorer through 14 games with 10.1 ppg.
It wasn't pretty by any means, but the Lobos turned a dismal shooting effort into a much-needed win as they survived just 38.6 percent accuracy from the floor and 15-of-29 (.517) at the free-throw line to pull off the five-point home win three nights ago. Alex Kirk responded with 23 points and nine rebounds, Tony Snell and Kendall Williams dropped in 13 and 11 points, respectively, while Chad Adams tacked on six points and a game-high 10 rebounds. More importantly, the UNM defense frustrated UNLV's Anthony Bennett to the point where the star scored only 12 points and pulled down six rebounds while dealing with foul trouble. Even though it wasn't completely evident against the Runnin' Rebels, New Mexico relies heavily on its opportunities at the free-throw line where its already outscored the competition by 148 points over 16 games. Williams (14.6 ppg, 73 assists) has certainly used his time at the charity stripe wisely with his 81.8 percent accuracy.
Both of these teams would like to keep the scoring to a minimum, but as long as Olekaibe continues to take tough shots the Lobos will be more than happy to accommodate him.