Las Vegas, NV (SportsNetwork.com) - The New Mexico State Aggies shoot for their fourth straight Western Athletic Conference Tournament crown on Saturday night as they clash with the Seattle Redhawks at Orleans Arena.
New Mexico State, the only team among the current list of WAC members that has won this event, is the top seed in the 32nd annual tourney and has a wealth of experience in the championship round, having appeared in the final game a total of six times between 2007-2014. The squad has taken home the trophy a total of five times and is trying to make it six after defeating Cal State Bakersfield in the semifinals on Friday, 57-53.
As for the Redhawks, who only recently made a return to the Division I ranks, they are the third seed in this year's tournament and began their quest to getting back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1969 by taking out sixth-seeded Chicago State on Thursday night, 49-45. The road continued on Friday with a 69-63 triumph over second-seeded UMKC for a Seattle team that was an even 7-7 in conference play during the regular season.
The teams played twice during the regular season, with each side winning at home as Seattle captured a 58-52 victory in the Pacific Northwest back in January and the Aggies returned the favor the following month with a 73-47 thrashing in Las Cruces.
Isiah Umipig erupted for a game-high 30 points, tying a WAC Tournament record with eight 3-pointers, as the Redhawks collected their fifth win in the last six outings with a six-point triumph over the Kangaroos last night. Umipig took all but two of his 19 field goal attempts from beyond the arc, helping the team to convert a solid 10-of-23 on the perimeter in the close call. William Powell added 13 points and Jarell Flora 12, while Jack Crook registered a game-high 11 rebounds to go along with seven points and four assists before fouling out.
Heading into action on Friday, Umipig was hitting his 3-point tries at an impressive 42.7 percent clip, which was better than his field goal shooting overall (.421), as he generated 16.7 ppg. Flora was stepping up with another 14.0 ppg as he too shot the ball well on the perimeter at 40.1 percent. The Redhawks had been producing 62.4 ppg, which was only 1.1 ppg more than the competition.
Trailing by as many as six points early in the first half, the Aggies managed to turn it around by intermission, taking a 28-23 lead at the break on the strength of 50 percent shooting from the field. The team was then able to hold on down the stretch by forcing the Roadrunners to come up empty on five 3- point attempts in the second half. Tshilidzi Nephawe led the way for NMSU with 19 points and 14 rebounds before fouling out, followed by Pascal Siakam with a double-double of his own consisting of 10 points and 10 boards. Daniel Mullings pitched in with 14 points.
Siakam, a 57.7 percent shooter from the floor on the campaign, is still the top overall performer for the Aggies in terms of scoring (13.1 ppg) and rebounding (7.8 rpg) and is also first with 58 blocked shots. Remi Barry is also putting up 13.1 ppg and Mullings another 12.9 ppg. Despite appearing in only 20 games, starting all but two of those, Nephawe (10.0 ppg) lends some strength to the interior with another 7.5 rpg as the team beats foes on the glass by an average of seven rebounds per game.