Fresno State (13-19) vs. New Mexico State (23-9)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Thursday, March 8, 5:30 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Orleans Arena (7,471) -- Las Vegas, Nevada. Television: None. Home Record: FSU 9-5, NMSU 14-3. Away Record: FSU 3-12, NMSU 7-5. Neutral Record: FSU 1-2, NMSU 2-1. Conference Record: FSU 3-11, NMSU 10-4. Series Record: New Mexico State leads, 24-13.
GAME NOTES: A replay of the final game of the regular season hits the floor at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas this afternoon, as the New Mexico State Aggies and the Fresno State Bulldogs clash in the quarterfinals of the 29th annual Western Athletic Conference Tournament.
The second seed in this year's event, the Aggies are trying to get back to the title game for the second time in the last three years, having beaten Utah State in the championship in 2010 by a score of 69-63. NMSU chased Nevada all season for the top spot in the WAC standings, but losing twice to the Wolf Pack prevented the Aggies from keeping pace and they finished with a league record of 10-4.
As for the seventh-seeded Bulldogs, winners of this event way back in 2000 against a Tulsa program which isn't even part of the league anymore, they are 11-16 over the years in the tourney and haven't been able to get back to the title game since that 75-72 victory over the Golden Hurricane.
These same two teams closed out the regular season against each other over the weekend, with the Aggies capturing an 84-78 overtime win at the Save Mart Center to complete the season sweep. As a result, the all-time series now numbers 24-13 in favor of New Mexico State.
The winner of today's contest heads back to the hardwood tomorrow to face off against the survivor of the Hawaii/Idaho contest in the semifinals.
Not much has gone right for the Bulldogs this season, particularly in conference play as they were the only team to bow to San Jose State (79-71 in double-overtime). Kevin Olekaibe was named to the All-WAC Second Team basically because he let fly with enough shots in order to lead the team in scoring with 18.0 ppg. Certainly he can pile up the points, but the real story here is that Olekaibe simply shoots far too much for this program to be successful on a regular basis. All you need to know is that the guard attempted a total of 264 shots from three-point range, the same number of overall field goal attempts that Tyler Johnson had as the second-most field goal attempts on the roster. Jonathan Wills (10.5 ppg) tries to add some scoring support for a team that leans heavily on the starters and doesn't get much production out of its reserves.
The Aggies, losers of consecutive games only once since the middle of December, were the top scoring team in the WAC with 78.3 ppg and also enjoyed the largest scoring margin in the league with a plus-9.8 ppg, but that's to be expected when you score at least 90 points against the likes of Southern University, Western New Mexico and Northern New Mexico, not to mention a wild 115-point outing against Hawaii a few weeks back. But regardless of which teams New Mexico State beat up on this season, the squad still boasts of having one of the most dominating players in the league in Wendell McKines, who averaged a double-double with 18.5 points and 10.8 rebounds per outing. Clearly a force near the basket McKines, who was named to the All-WAC First Team, also showed his versatility by converting 43 three-pointers, the most on the team. Hernst Laroche (12.1 ppg) and Hamidu Rahman (10.4 ppg) have tried to make up for the loss of Christian Kabongo (14.6 ppg), and even Daniel Mullings has arrived as a potentially dangerous player who registered a triple-double (28 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists, five steals) in the recent win over Hawaii.
Unless the Bulldogs have some surprises they are waiting to spring on New Mexico State, this is a game that should be won by the Aggies. As long as McKines can impose his will in the paint and NMSU doesn't make too many mistakes, the win should be a comfortable one.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: New Mexico State 79, Fresno State 65
03/08 10:31:27 ET