GAME NOTES: The battle for bragging rights in the Land of Enchantment takes place in Albuquerque tonight, as the New Mexico Lobos host the New Mexico State Aggies in The Pit.
A perfect 4-0 in their own building this season, the Lobos are actually coming off one of their two setbacks suffered, having bowed to nationally-ranked Kansas on Saturday, 80-63. The defeat snapped a four-game win streak for UNM.
As for the Aggies, tonight's matchup marks the end of a four-game road trip for the group, with games against Northern New Mexico and South Alabama awaiting the team in Las Cruces over the next 11 days. Like the Lobos, NMSU was also in action over the weekend, but in its case the team secured an 81-69 overtime victory in order to break a four-game slide.
The Lobos control the all-time series by a count of 115-95, winning the most recent meeting, 68-63, about this same time last season. New Mexico has now taken three straight from the Aggies.
Sim Bhullar recorded a double-double with 22 points and 12 rebounds as the Aggies survived in overtime against the Drake Bulldogs, 81-69 at the Knapp Center. Also posting a double-double for NMSU was Tshilidzi Nephawe with 10 points and 10 boards, followed by KC Ross-Miller and Kevin Aronis who checked in with 14 and 12 points, respectively. Defensively, the Aggies held the Bulldogs to a mere 30.4 percent shooting from the field and 3-of-15 beyond the arc in order to offset a mere 16-of-32 showing at the free-throw line.
Although he shot just 3-of-13 from the field and finished with almost as many turnovers (six) as he did points (seven) versus Drake, Daniel Mullings is still the top offensive threat for NMSU with his 16.8 ppg. However, for someone who handles the ball as much as he does, the fact that Mullings is shooting just 67.0 percent at the free-throw line and is a dismal 24.0 percent accuracy beyond the arc has to be a bit concerning. Eldridge checks in with 10.7 ppg and is one of the better perimeter shooters with 43.9 percent success, but still the team as a whole has converted just 33.5 percent from beyond the arc.
Despite shooting only 37.5 percent from the field, including 1-of-8 from 3- point range in the first half at the Sprint Center, the Lobos were still competitive against Kansas through 20 minutes of action. However, the second half was a different story as the team converted a mere six field goals in total, en route to the 17-point loss. Of the 63 points scored by UNM, all but 15 came from Cameron Bairstow and Kendall Williams who each tallied 24 points on a combined 14-of-28 effort from the floor. The other Lobos made a collective 4-of-26 from the field in the meeting.
While Williams is considered the top player in the Mountain West Conference, currently averaging 19.7 ppg and more than five assists per outing, it is Bairstow who paces the Lobos in scoring with 20.2 ppg, to go along with 7.0 rpg as he shoots 54.0 percent from the field. Not to be overlooked is big man Alex Kirk who is on the verge of averaging a double-double with 17.1 points and 9.8 rebounds per game, and while his 27 blocked shots also lead the group, his 27.6 percent aim from the outside is something that needs to be addressed.
Both of these teams can work the glass quite hard, but the Aggies may be just slightly less disciplined when it comes to playing physical and that should work in favor of New Mexico tonight at home.
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