One of two teams from the Mountain West Conference entering the weekend with a perfect record through nine games, the 18th-ranked New Mexico Lobos try their luck against the Valparaiso Crusaders in The Pit on Saturday night.
Along with the Wyoming Cowboys, who are slated to play Oklahoma-Panhandle on Saturday, the Lobos have rattled off nine wins in as many games to kick off the campaign for head coach Steve Alford. New Mexico wasn't nationally ranked to begin the season, but after six straight wins the recognition began to follow.
There have been a few close calls for sure, a one-point win over George Mason and an overtime decision versus Indiana State last weekend, but still the record remains unblemished. The latest victim of the Lobos was USC on Wednesday, as the Trojans were dealt a 75-67 setback in Albuquerque.
As for the Crusaders, members of the Horizon League, they too have gotten off to a strong start with six wins in eight opportunities. The most recent outing for Valpo was also three nights ago when it held IPFW to three points over an 11-minute stretch, en route to a 63-52 home win. The victory was the fourth in the last five games for the team as it now begins a three-game road trip.
This is just the second game ever between these two schools on the hardwood, the other being played back in 1959 when the Lobos slipped by with an 80-76 victory in Detroit.
Ryan Broekhoff scored a game-high 21 points and pulled down nine rebounds as the Crusaders registered the 11-point win over the Mastodons of IUPU-Ft. Wayne in non-conference play at the Athletics-Recreation Center earlier this week. Also scoring in double figures for the Crusaders was Kevin Van Wijk with 12 points, to go along with six rebounds before he fouled out. Valpo ended up shooting only 5-of-17 behind the three-point line in the meeting, but made up for it at the defensive end of the floor where it held the visitors to just 31.4 percent shooting overall and forced 16 turnovers. Having led Valpo in both scoring and rebounding last season, Broekhoff appears comfortable in that role once again in 2012-13 as he puts up 16.6 ppg and pulls down 7.4 rpg. Making his efforts on the glass that much more remarkable is the fact that Broekhoff is also shooting 18-of-44 (.409) behind the three-point line, which means he is comfortable out on the perimeter as well. Van Wijk (14.8 ppg, 5.3 rpg) doesn't have the same ability on the outside, which is why he is shooting 53.8 percent from the floor as he stays closer to the paint.
The Lobos fell behind by as many as 10 points in the first half, but the team put on a mad dash to close out the frame in order to grab a 43-34 advantage at the break and then hold on for the win. New Mexico shot an impressive 51.9 percent from the floor, including 11-of-24 behind the three-point line, but a lackluster 8-of-14 showing at the free-throw line caused the game to be closer than it should have been. Alex Kirk was responsible for a double-double consisting of 13 points and a game-high 13 rebounds, while Hugh Greenwood wound up leading all scorers with 17 points. Coming up an assist shy of his own double-double was Kendall Williams who chipped in 13 points and also made three steals. The team's accuracy from the field was the high-point of the season thus far and just the second time the Lobos have knocked down more than half of their attempts. The eight made free throws were also the fewest to this point, the team averaging almost 22 points per game at the charity stripe. Williams (14.1 ppg), Tony Snell (12.2 ppg) and Kirk (11.7 ppg) have combined to make 104 free throws, which is nine more than the competition.