Round two of the Rio Grande Rivalry takes place tonight at 7:00 p.m. MT as the New Mexico State Aggies visit the University of New Mexico Lobos. The Lobos and the Aggies have faced off 211 times, with the Lobos holding a 116-95 edge in the series that dates all the way back to December 22, 1904, making the series 109 years old. For a brief history of the Rivalry see my previous preview: http://www.mwcconnection.com/2013/12/3/5172598/lobos-vs-aggies-preview
The Lobos won round one of the Rio Grande Rivalry by defeating the Aggies in their own home, 79-70. The Aggies hope to repay the favor. New Mexico State head coach, Marvin Menzies, was not shy in expressing his disappointment in that loss. He thought his team played with a lack of emotion and intensity. Don't expect that to be the case tonight. Menzies and his Aggies bring a lot of talent (and size) into The Pit.
The Aggies are led 6-2 Daniel Mullings who averages 16.8 points, 3.9 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.6 steals per game. If Mullings is the conductor, 7-5 Sim Bhullar (9.9 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 3.2 bpg), 6-10 Tshilidzi Nephawe (9.4 ppg, 6.9 rpg) and 6-10 Renaldo Dixon (6.0 ppg, 4.9 rpg) play baritone. These are three big guys who can change the dynamics of the game. Bhullar tips the scale at 355 lbs, and he scored 22 points and hauled in 12 boards in the Aggies' prior game.
"They're big," said Lobo Coach Craig Neal. "They have a really good team. I think they are going to come in here and expect to win."
The Lobos have a few "bigs" of their own. 6-9 Cameron Bairstow paces UNM with 20.2 points and 7.0 rebounds per game. Bairstow lit up the Aggies in their last meeting with 20 points. 7-foot Alex Kirk averages 17.1 ppg, 9.8 rpg, and 3.0 bpg. The Lobos rank 17th in the nation in rebounding with 42 per game. Kendall Williams rounds out the Lobos' big three, averaging 19.7 points and 5.3 assists per game.
The Lobos and the Aggies are both smarting from a proverbial black eye. The Aggies have won only one out of their last five games (before that they had a single loss). Granted, they played some formidable foes (Colorado St (by 2 points), UNM, #19 Gonzaga, and #1 Arizona). The Aggies defeated Drake on the road in overtime just three days ago, 81-69. If the Aggies could cap this brutal stretch with a win in The Pit, it would probably make those prior losses less sour, especially against in-state rival.
The Lobos on the other hand are licking their own wounds. The Lobos got rock chalked by the Jayhawks in Kansas City over the weekend, 80-63. It was a tough game for the Lobos. Kirk only scored five points in 18 minutes thanks to foul trouble, leaving the scoring burden on Bairstow and Williams, who both had 24 points. That was it for the Lobos; the next highest scorer was Cullen Neal with 4 points. Even with that, the Lobos were within one-point at the half. Kansas dominated in the second half though, shredding the typically pig-headed Lobo defense to tatters. The Lobos are holding opponents to just 39 percent shooting this year. Kansas shot 51.9 percent.
But if the Lobos are licking their wounds, they are also licking their chops. The Aggies aren't the Jayhawks and this isn't Kansas. This is The Pit and the Lobos are not the type of team to lose two in a row.
I expect New Mexico State to come out aggressive and look to draw fouls. The Aggies have shot 402 free throws in their 13 games and their opponents have shot 296. The Lobos will definitely want to stay out of foul trouble.
But more than that, the Lobos will also need some help offensively. This team cannot rely solely on the big three. New Mexico has to get some help from the bench. I thought we would know by now who would provide that offensive spark, but it just hasn't materialized. I would love to see Nick Banyard or Deshawn Delaney step up tonight and gain some swagger going forward. It certainly is not going to help that Hugh Greenwood, the Lobos' de facto point guard might miss tonight's game with a wrist injury.
A win is always a win, but the Lobos really need this one to cleanse that ugly loss against Kansas from their conscious. Especially since the Lobos' next game is against a tough Marquette team in Las Vegas (yet another neutral-site game). Let's see if the Lobos can bounce back and sweep their in-state rivals.