Lobos dominate 76-67 giving Aztecs first home loss
On a dark and stormy night on the Mesa, Viejas Arena shone brightly as a friendly beacon to Aztec faithful. Sadly, in this tale, the visiting New Mexico Lobos, brought their own kind of black magic and defeated the Aztecs 76-67 in a convincing performance. Fresh off a strong win against conference leader Nevada, the Aztecs were eight point favorites to take care of business. But this is the Mountain West where nothing is as it seems. The Lobos used several outstanding performances to capture their 16th win of the season. Look no further than guard Jaelen House who was a one man wrecking crew while accounting for 29 points. His cohort Jamal Mashburn Jr. contributed an additional 22 and forward Morris Udeze grabbed 15 rebounds and ten points. The Aztecs had no answer for this trio as they controlled the paint and the shooting lanes. A full house of 12,414 were vocal and frustrated, many times throwing their ire at House who seemed unstoppable. New Mexico was solidly in front for most of the game, leading 38-28 at halftime and maintaining a lead through most of the second half. A key turning point happened with about eight minutes to play when Nathan Mensah was called for a technical. This was his fifth personal foul and he was gone. After making the free throws, the Lobos then hit a three turning this sequence into a five point play. This provided the separation needed and New Mexico never looked back. The Aztecs were hoping for consistent play from their key starters, Matt Bradley and Lamont Butler, but had to settle for 23 points between the two of them. Of concern is Bradley’s 5/16 shooting from the field. He had to work for every shot and missed several easy ones. Adam Seiko added 13 points while going 3/5 from beyond the arch and Keshad Johnson added seven rebounds. Of additional concern was Darrian Trammell only shooting 1-8 from the field and the Aztecs shooting a frigid 52% from the free throw line.
The season is long and there is a return trip to New Mexico in March, Can the Aztecs flip the table on the Lobos at The Pit? They are currently tied for second place with Boise State with plenty of basketball left. This game could serve as a learning experience in patience, persistence, and perseverance. The Aztecs played with a lack of patience, forcing many shots, many times bypassing a better-quality look at the basket. They did have 14 assists, which showed good ball movement. One could argue after the Nevada win, there might be a mental letdown. True, but the mark of a championship team is to avoid those letdowns. One would not have that luxury playing in the tournament. Coach Dutcher has some work ahead of him to find out how to avoid these breakdowns. The Aztecs have high expectations and being 13-4 at this juncture in the season, might be where he is expecting to be, but a sub-par performance certainly was not in the plan. The Aztecs are back on the court on Wednesday traveling to play the Colorado State Rams, themselves a 82-81 OT winner against UNLV which saw them go to overtime on a last-second three-point prayer by Isaiah Stevens and a game-winning three by Stevens with four seconds left. He finished the game with 33 points and certainly will be on the Aztecs radar heading into this contest. What will this week hold for Mountain West teams? It certainly is an entertaining ride.