After surrendering a 16-point lead against SDSU for the regular season title, New Mexico finds itself as a No. 2 seed in the MW Tournament. The Lobos hope to put that loss behind them as they take on Fresno State Saturday night at 7:00 pm MT in the Thomas & Mack Arena in Las Vegas, NV.
No. 7 Fresno State managed an impressive come-from-behind victory (61-59) over No. 10 Air Force in the first round of the Tournament to advance. The Lobos finished 15-3 in conference play and had a first-round bye thanks to their seed.
Fresno started league play a dismal 1-7 (with their one win coming against Air Force). The Bulldogs turned it around in the second half of conference play winning eight of their next ten games, including a win over Boise State.
By now we know UNM's scoring trifecta of Cameron Bairstow (20.3 ppg, 7.2 rpg), Kendall Williams (16.4 ppg, 5.0 apg), and Alex Kirk (13.7 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 2.9 bpg). Cullen Neal and Cleveland Thomas both had nice games last time these teams met, scoring 17 and 10. Another good omen: the Lobos rebounded from a rare home loss to UNLV by defeating Fresno on the road earlier this season.
The Bulldogs are led by Tyler Johnson who had a heroic 19 point, 12 rebound performance to lift Fresno over Air Force. Johnson also went 3-4 from beyond the arc. Marvelle Harris and Cezar Guerrero are next up, averaging 15.1 and 13.2 points per game, respectively. They will need all that and more to match UNM's league-leading offense.
UNM has shown a tendency to start these types of game somewhat lackadaisically. They can't afford to do that away from The Pit. Look for the Lobos to play with a lot of energy and feed their two big men, Bairstow and Kirk.
The Lobos and the Aztecs are the heavy favorites to win the Tournament-well them and UNLV who is playing on its home court-but Fresno and others certainly have the talent to upend one of the big guys.
I imagine that the Lobos are hoping that they get another crack at SDSU in the final round to finally settle the score after splitting games in conference play. If they aren't, Lobo fans certainly are (and I suspect SDSU fans as well).
It won't be easy for either team though. The Lobos and Aztecs are very likely locks to play in the NCAA Tournament. The same cannot be said for any other MW team. The only way to stamp that ticket will be by winning the MW Tournament. Suffice it to say, these teams will be playing for a lot. For example: that whacky USU vs. CSU game and Fresno's gritty comeback against Air Force.
The winner of this game will face the winner of No. 3 Nevada and No. 6 Boise State. Let's see if the Lobos can shake off that disappointing loss against SDSU and re-calibrate their focus on tournaments, this one in Vegas and the one after too.
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