The 14th-ranked New Mexico Lobos try to give themselves even more of a cushion at the top of the Mountain West Conference as they host the San Diego State Aztecs at The Pit on Wednesday night.
New Mexico has the top mark in league play at 10-2 at the moment, two games ahead of Colorado State (8-4), the latter being just slightly ahead of both SDSU and UNLV which are 8-5 coming into the week. The Lobos still have this and three more regular-season games on the schedule so there is plenty that can happen between now and the start of the MWC Tournament the second week of March.
Over the weekend, the Lobos made sure they distanced themselves a bit from CSU by posting a 91-82 victory at Moby Arena, snapping a 27-game home win streak by the Rams in the process. The win was the third in a row and the sixth in seven games for UNM thanks to Kendall Williams who scored 46 points by hitting a total of 10 3-pointers.
As for the Aztecs, a team which had been a favorite to compete for the regular-season title, there is still some hope for that to take place, but time is running out. The squad did bounce back from consecutive defeats against Colorado State and UNLV a couple weeks ago by scoring wins against Wyoming and Nevada, but neither of those squads carries the same weight as the Rams or Lobos right now. If nothing else, the Aztecs extended the program record of consecutive 20-win seasons to eight in a row.
In terms of the all-time series, the Lobos lead by a count of 40-33 over San Diego State, although the Aztecs are the ones who posted a 55-34 victory in the first meeting of the season when the visitors were held to their lowest point total since Jan. 31, 1976.
Should the Aztecs complete the season sweep of UNM, it will be the third victory of the campaign for SDSU against a nationally-ranked squad.
Of the six players that scored for the Aztecs against Nevada, all hit for double digits led by Jamaal Franklin with 23 points and a game-high 12 rebounds, to help offset the 33-points tallied by Malik Story for the Wolf Pack. Chase Tapley dropped in 17 points, JJ O'Brien and Winston Shepard each tallied 14, while Xavier Thames and DeShawn Stephens each recorded 10 points for the hosts as they shot 58.2 percent from the floor and 10-of-22 behind the 3-point line.
Often a highlight all by himself Franklin, who is again in the running for MWC Player of the Year Honors, continues to lead the Aztecs in scoring (17.3 ppg), rebounding (9.1 rpg), assists (84) and steals (40). The only thing that tends to drag down Franklin is his insistence on trying to be a viable 3-point threat with just 27.3 percent accuracy on the outside. Tapley easily makes up the difference there by converting just under 40 percent of his tries, en route to 13.7 ppg for a team that continues to outscore the competition by more than 10 ppg.
Kendall Williams could do no wrong in the game against Colorado State in Fort Collins over the weekend, shooting an incredible 12-of-16 from the floor and an even more impressive 10-of-13 behind the 3-point line as he tied for the third-highest scoring output in program history. Yet even with the Herculean effort by Williams, the game still featured 10 ties and 12 lead changes as the Rams produced three players with at least 20 points. While Williams was ruling the outside for UNM, Alex Kirk was pounding the paint to come up with 19 points and 10 rebounds before fouling out, while Tony Snell pitched in 10 points and five assists.
One of only five players in the history of the UNM program to have at least 1,000 points and 400 assists in his career, Williams is scoring 13.7 ppg in conference play this season and has delivered 50 assists over the 11 games in which he has appeared. Snell is responsible for another 12.1 ppg as he teams with Williams to combine for 40 triples. Kirk (11.6 ppg) can play a bit too physical in the paint at times, resulting in a pair of disqualifications, but his 8.7 rpg are a much-needed facet of the team's success.