Both teams have identical overall records at 20-4 and their 6-2 MWC marks matched that of UNLV which took on TCU Tuesday night at Daniel-Meyer Coliseum in Fort Worth and was stunned by the Horned Frogs in overtime, 102-97, which means this matchup is for the exclusive rights to first place in the standings, at least for the time being.
New Mexico is the hottest team in the conference right now with five straight victories, following the back-to-back defeats versus SDSU and UNLV last month. Most recently, head coach Steve Alford led his squad to a 48-38 defensive win versus Wyoming at home on Saturday afternoon. Considering the Lobos were just 2-2 after their first four games of the season, they've come a long way in an effort to clog up the MWC standings.
Meanwhile, the Aztecs are where UNM was during the first few weeks of the campaign, dealing with a split over the last four outings. On Saturday, SDSU had the much-anticipated showdown against UNLV at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas and it certainly lived up to the billing as the Runnin' Rebels slipped by in a 65-63 final. San Diego State has avoided back-to-back defeats since January 2010, so at least the team has that working in its favor tonight.
The Lobos lead the all-time series between the teams by a count of 38-32, but SDSU won the first meeting of the season last month by a score of 75-70 and is threatening to sweep the season series for the second straight year. The Aztecs have won five of the last six meetings between these two teams at Viejas Arena, including three in a row.
It was bound to be a defensive battle against Wyoming last week, seeing as how the Cowboys are one of the top teams in the country when it comes to holding down the opposition, but few expected UNM to limit the Pokes to just 38 points. The fewest points given up by the Lobos since the team captured a 62-32 win over Weber State two days before Christmas in 2007, Kendall Williams was the only UNM player to score in double figures as he dropped in 10 points, while Drew Gordon came up with seven points and a game-high 13 rebounds as the team survived 17 turnovers. Williams, who has at least held a share of the scoring lead for the Lobos in the last three games, is the top scorer for the group in conference play with his 13.4 ppg. Gordon checks in with 10.3 ppg and 9.6 rpg in those outings, but as was the case over the weekend, it really is the defense that is taking care of business for the Lobos as they limit conference opponents to just 56.5 ppg, those team shooting a mere 38.4 percent from the floor and 29.7 percent behind the three-point line.
In front of a sold-out crowd at the Thomas & Mack, San Diego State fought all the way back from a 13-point second-half deficit and actually took the lead against UNLV in the final two minutes, but the Aztecs couldn't keep control of the ball and ended up with the two-point setback. Chase Tapley offered up 22 points for the visitors, followed by Jamaal Franklin who accounted for 15 points and eight rebounds, but he was also responsible for five of the unit's 17 turnovers which proved to be crucial in the close call. Tapley and Jamaal Franklin are at the top of the scoring list for the Aztecs after 24 games, posting 16.2 and 16.0 ppg, respectively, the former taking care of business out on the perimeter with his 44.1 percent three-point shooting and the latter clearing 7.3 rpg to take the lead in that department. But like New Mexico, the main focus of the Aztecs is to control the pace and limit scoring opportunities and that has held opponents to just 61.8 ppg based on 39.3 percent shooting from the floor and 32.4 percent behind the three-point line.