The top team in the Mountain West Conference tries to move even closer to the regular season title, as the 14th- ranked New Mexico Lobos entertain the Wyoming Cowboys on Saturday afternoon in their final home game of the campaign.
With their 70-60 win over the San Diego State Aztecs three nights ago also in The Pit, the Lobos have now taken four straight and seven of the last eight outings overall. With a mark of 11-2 in conference, UNM is two games up on second-place Colorado State with a total of three games remaining in the regular season.
As for the Cowboys, this is a team that showed so much promise over the first seven weeks by opening 2012-13 with a 13-game win streak. However, since then the team has put up a 5-10 mark and is just 4-10 in league action following a 72-66 loss to Air Force on Tuesday night. The setback was the third in a row for the Pokes.
In a series that began back in 1950, the Cowboys are ahead by a slim 64-62 margin, although UNM has won four straight and six of the last seven encounters, and that includes a 63-59 final in the first meeting of the season at Arena Auditorium in Laramie at the end of January.
Wyoming led by as many as seven in the first half against Air Force earlier this week, but the visitors then made just nine field goals after the break, allowing the host Falcons to pull away at Clune Arena. Nathan Sobey scored a team-best 22 points off the bench for the Pokes, shooting a perfect 6-of-6 behind the 3-point line, while Riley Grabau tacked on 12 points and five assists. Leonard Washington, who had missed the two previous games with an ankle injury, returned to register a double-double with 15 points and 13 rebounds.
Washington, who is playing close to 35 minutes per game, leads the group in scoring with his 13.6 ppg and is also first with 10.0 rpg in conference play, although he would certainly benefit from staying close to the paint and not attempting too many shots beyond the arc (5-of-40) and also putting in a bit more practice at the free-throw line (.533). Derrious Gilmore contributes another 12.4 ppg, thanks to his 31 triples in 14 league bouts, but still this is a program shooting only 29.5 percent on the outside.
In a game that featured five ties and six lead changes, it was the defense for the Lobos that made the most difference against visiting San Diego State as it held the Aztecs to just 4-of-23 shooting beyond the arc and 36.2 percent from the floor overall. Alex Kirk took the lead on offense for UNM with a game-high 25 points, hitting all three of his 3-point tries, while also clearing seven rebounds and blocking three shots. Before fouling out Cameron Bairstow accounted for 16 points and five boards, followed by Tony Snell with 10 points.
Four days after scoring 46 points, shooting 10-of-13 beyond the arc versus Colorado State, Kendall Williams missed all four of his long-distance tries and was just 1-of-6 from the floor as he tallied eight points versus SDSU. Despite the light effort, Williams continues to lead the team in scoring against MWC opponents with his 13.3 ppg, his 58 assists in his 12 league contests also playing a huge role in putting the team in the win column. Kirk (12,6 ppg, 8.5 rpg) and Snell (11.9 ppg) are also key figures at the offensive end of the floor.