Ron Chenoy-US PRESSWIRE
The San Diego St. Aztecs desperately need to topple the New Mexico Lobos to re-enter the Mountain West race Saturday at Viejas Arena.
The San Diego State Aztecs (15-4, 3-2 MWC) aren't used to playing must-win conference games in January to stay alive in the Mountain West race. But a commanding two-game lead over every team in the conference is more of a testament to the blazing hot start by the New Mexico Lobos (17-2, 4-0 MWC) than it is subpar play by their rivals in an incredibly talented conference.
The Aztecs hope to hold serve at home at the always tough tough Viejas Arena—they are 8-1 there this season with the only home loss coming at the hands of the UNLV Runnin' Rebels. An early season favorite in the conference, the Aztecs find themselves in another kind of unfamiliar territory as they recently snapped a 23-week streak ranked in the Associated Press Top 25. San Diego State comes off a convincing win when they knocked off the host Nevada Wolf Pack, 78-57.
The Lobos have been tearing through the Mountain West at a torrid pace, racking up some hard-fought wins against UNLV, Fresno St., Boise St. and Colorado St. The more difficult part of the Mountain West gauntlet now begins for the Lobos who have had the privilege of playing 3 our of 4 conference games at home at The Pit. With their next two games slated @ San Diego St. and @ Wyoming, the Lobos will have to continue their trademark free throw shooting and gritty defensive play to keep their counterparts looking up in the standings.
The Aztecs feature 2012 Mountain West Player of the Year Jamal Franklin, an absolute terror from any end of the court and in every facet of the game. Franklin is the only player in the Mountain West ranked in the top six in points, rebounds, assists, steals and free throws. The Aztecs also feature catalyst guard Xavier Thames—a player who New Mexico head coach Steve Alford described as "the Hugh Greenwood of their offense"—who still averages 9.7 points a game despite battling a back problem all season.
The Lobos hope to have their big man Alex Kirk—averaging 7.6 rebounds a game—back and 100% healthy after battling the flu all last week. Guard Tony Snell has been heating up for New Mexico, scoring in double-figures in each of their last three contests with opportune shooting combined with a newfound aggressiveness that has awarded him multiple trips to the free throw line. He boasts an .829 average from the charity stripe.
Since the 2009-10 season, the Aztecs and Lobos have accounted for the last six Mountain West championships (regular season and Vegas tournament) and were regular season co-champions just last season. The 17th straight sellout for the Aztecs will be nationally televised on NBC Sports Network and can be heard on the Lobo Radio Network 770 AM KKOB, or AM 600 KOGO and 101 KGB for the Aztecs.