No. 21 New Mexico (23-5) plays their last home game of the season Wednesday night against Air Force (11-16). The game tips off at 7:00 p.m. MT.
Wednesday night also marks the last game that seniors Cameron Bairstow, Kendall Williams, and Chris Perez will play in The Pit. Perez is the all-time winningest walk-on in UNM history and of course, Bairstow and Williams have done so much for the Lobos.
The Lobos moved up to #21 in the AP Poll this week and Bairstow is a candidate for the Oscar Robertson Player of the Year while Williams is a nominee for the Bob Cousy Award. Needless to say, it is going to be with great admiration, respect, and appreciation that The Pit and all Lobo fans bid farewell to these esteemed players. In addition, Tony Snell's (current Chicago Bull) mother is revisiting The Pit to honor the seniors. Snell was able to visit himself during the NBA All-Start weekend, but he will be busy Wednesday night as the Bulls visit the Detroit Pistons.
That aside, fans also expect the Lobos to win this game against a struggling Air Force squad to keep pace with #10 SDSU. Currently UNM and SDSU are tied in the MW at 14-2. Right after the UNM/AF game, SDSU plays UNLV in Las Vegas.
If both teams win, the MW crown will be decided in the highly anticipated showdown this Saturday when UNM travels to Viejas Arena. The same is true if both teams lose. However, if one team drops a game and the other does not and the teams split the series, RPI will determine the champion. A lot of "ifs" and "thens" for the time being, but Wednesday night will clear a lot up.
First though, the Lobos must focus on the task at hand. The Falcons have one of the best three-point shooters in the nation in Tre' Coggins who averages 16.3 ppg, 2.8 apg, and hits 40% of his threes. Max Yon adds another 13.3 points and 2.7 assists per game. Marek Olesinski (11.2 ppg, 5.0 rpg) and Kamryn Williams (10.0 ppg, 6.4 rpg) round out the scoring core for Air Force.
New Mexico is led by the usual suspects and a few late-bloomers. Leading MW scorer Bairstow (20.3 ppg, 7.2 rpg) and all-time MW assist leader Williams (16.9 ppg, 5.1 apg) lead the charge for the Lobos. Alex Kirk is formidable on both ends of the floor, averaging 13.8 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 2.9 blocks per game. Bairstow and Kirk have also been improving their distributions abilities running an effective high-low. Kirk had seven assist in the last two games and Bairstow had seven in the last five games.
Cullen Neal and Hugh Greenwood have shown that they can hit momentum-swinging shots. Greenwood is also viciously efficient both in shooting and protecting the ball. Deshawn Delaney and Cleveland Thomas have also started to capitalize these past few games with timely hustle plays and knocking down important shots or driving it hard to the rim.
UNM holds a 31-4 advantage over Air Force in The Pit, but the Falcons played spoiler last year on their senior night when they downed then #12 UNM at home by one point. I don't think Air Force has the fuel to pull of something similar this time around, especially in The Pit on senior night.
The Lobos need to come out strong Wednesday night. New Mexico allowed both Utah State and Nevada to build an early lead before finally taking control. The operative word is focus. New Mexico can't look forward to the game against SDSU, even if the fans can. I don't expect this to be a problem. If your final game in The Pit in front of 15, 411 thankful fans, including Tony Snell's mother, doesn't rile you up, I don't know what will.