Men's Basketball: Race for MWC tightens
Lobos faces Nevada on Saturday at The Pit
The New Mexico men’s basketball team’s margin of error tightened with Wednesday night’s loss at Boise State, especially with a back-loaded schedule looming.
The Lobos face five games in their last seven against the three other teams leading the Mountain West standings: two against leader San Diego State, one at third-place UNLV and two more against fourth-place Nevada.
UNM faces all three within a week’s time, starting Saturday when Nevada comes to The Pit. A trip to Las Vegas, Nev., follows on Wednesday with a Feb. 22 home game against SDSU.
Those three teams have a combined 24-10 record to this point in the MW race. UNM’s remaining schedule includes a trip to sixth-place Utah State and a home game against 10th-place Air Force.
UNM (18-5, 9-2 MW) could have matched San Diego State’s conference record after Wyoming handed the Aztecs their first league loss on Tuesday, but the Lobos faced a Broncos squad looking to even its MW record to 6-6.
“It was on our minds,” forward Cameron Bairstow said, referring to the opportunity to match SDSU’s conference mark. “Obviously we wanted to win that game so we could be up there.”
The Lobos had not lost a MW road game until Wednesday night in Boise, Idaho, where they gave up an 11-point second-half lead.
UNM went undefeated in five straight games away from Albuquerque to start Mountain West play, marking the best conference road start in school history.
“We were 9-1 and could (have gone) 10-1 and tied for first place,” UNM head coach Craig Neal said. “That’s part of the process. It’s late in the year when that’s what matters. We just let one slip away here. We’ve just got to bounce back and play well on Saturday.”
Nevada opened the conference with a 7-2 record but has struggled lately with three straight losses to Utah State, SDSU and Fresno State. In each of those games the Wolf Pack gave up at least 73 points.
Prior to the skid, Nevada kept its MW opponents to roughly 64 points and three times gave up 70 points. Two of those games resulted in Wolf Pack wins, and one went into double-overtime.
Nevada’s remaining schedule is not as daunting as UNM’s. Aside from seeing the Lobos twice, the Wolf Pack have single games against winless San Jose State, Air Force, Boise State and UNLV, and they do not have a second game with SDSU.
The Wolf Pack, averaging 73 points through 25 games, feature the conference’s top scoring threat in Deonte Burton. The senior guard has 20.4 points per game and holds a slight edge on Bairstow for the conference lead. UNM’s senior forward averages 20.2 points per game and netted his 1,000th career point against Boise.
Bairstow, however, holds the scoring advantage on Burton with 20.3 points per game; Burton has 18.1 against conference foes.
Only SDSU’s Xavier Thames has scored more than Bairstow against MW teams, a 20.4 average.
“We just need to refocus and get back on the court come Saturday, ready to win,” Bairstow said. “We know there will be plenty of opportunities for us in the future to get this one back.”
Men’s Basketball vs. Nevada