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December 14, 2012Call it a study in contrast.
Big versus small. Have versus have-not. Achievement versus disappointment.
The latest chapter in the state history that is the men's basketball rivalry between the Lobos and New Mexico State University is set to be written on Saturday night in The Pit and continued in the Pan American Center on Wednesday. The Lobos (10-0) are coming in as one of the hottest teams in the nation. They are ranked 17th in The Associated Press poll and 20th in the coaches' poll. There seems to be little to stop the Lobos Express at the moment.
The Aggies (5-4) are coming in as something of an enigma. NMSU seems to be talented and it is indisputably big - the Aggies have four players that are 6-foot-10 or taller, featuring Sim Bhullar, who is a towering 7-5. Tshilidzi Nephawe is 6-11. B.J. West and Renaldo Dixon are merely 6-10.
"That's incredible size," said Lobos head coach Steve Alford. "They present problems."
The Aggies guards, Daniel Mullings (6-2) and Tyrone Watson (6-5), also represent a challenge from the perimeter. Mullings is shooting 57 percent from 3-point range. Watson is converting 51 percent from the field.
The Aggies are also plus-10 in rebounding advantage per game. So why the mediocre record? The simple answer is inconsistency. The Aggies have battled turnovers and late defensive lapses that cost them at least two games (Niagara and UTEP).
The Lobos are going to try to exploit NMSU's weaknesses and some of its strengths, too. UNM leads the nation in free-throws made, 21.6 per game, and will try to take the ball right at the Aggies' height. UNM will use its quickness to get as many Aggies in foul trouble as possible. The Lobos will use the sell-out crowd to rattle the visitors and their defensive prowess to break them for good.
"If we defend the way we are capable of defending, we kind of ease the pressure of the backboard," Alford said.
The Lobos are 8-2 versus NMSU in the Alford era, and are rightfully confident. They are also motivated by last season's loss to NMSU in The Pit. The Aggies are underdogs in the truest sense. They are facing turmoil as the Western Athletic Conference crumbles and uncertainty looms.
Still, this is a rivalry that dates back to 1904, which UNM leads by a narrow 113-95 margin. Anything, as they say, can happen.
The Lobos just hope it's more of the same.
New Mexico NEWS