The University of New Mexico men's basketball team has an opportunity to even up its overall record as it hosts Colorado State at Dreamstyle Arena on Saturday.
The Lobos (10-11, 5-3 MW) hasn't enjoyed a .500 record since the early stages of the season. A 79-56 loss at the hands of New Mexico State on Nov. 17 dropped UNM to 2-1 at the time and was the first of a four-game losing streak.
But New Mexico has seemed to find its groove—winning four of its last five matchups and playing into the top half of the Mountain West standings, where the team is currently in a three-team tie for third place.
UNM head coach Paul Weir said sometimes the hardest games are ones that follow an emotional win—and last Saturday's win over San Diego State probably fits that criteria.
New Mexico overcame a 13-point deficit to complete a 79-75 victory over the Aztecs and rallied to beat UNLV in the previous game after trailing by double digits late in the second half.
Weir said the Lobos have won some games in which many may not have given them much of a chance and the recent success might shift the expectations fans and others have for the team moving forward.
But Weir said the team must continue to approach games in the same consistent manner. So now is not the time to take the proverbial foot off the gas.
"We have to stay hungry and we have to stay desperate and we have to do everything we’ve done to get ourselves to this point," the head coach said. "We have to continue to do this the rest of the way."
Colorado State (10-12, 3-6 MW) has been trending in the opposite direction as the Lobos, losing its last three in a row. The Rams dropped a pair of home games and was handled in their last meeting, a 97-78 road loss to San Diego State.
CSU could be a matchup problem for New Mexico as Weir pointed out that the Rams are proficient at doing a lot of things the Lobos struggle at.
UNM has had a difficult time staying in front of ball handlers and defending the paint. The Lobos have shown defensive improvement—especially in the second halves of games—but will need to rise up to face the challenge of Colorado State's one-on-one playmaking ability.
Even without the services of its leading scorer, junior guard Prentiss Nixon, the Rams saw virtually no drop-off in team scoring over the past few games. Nixon has averaged 17.9 points per game, but CSU has shown a penchant for getting production from a bevy of other players.
Junior guard J.D. Paige is second on the team in scoring, posting 10.4 points per game—but it was Anthony Bonner who led the way for the Rams in their last game, putting up 22 points on just 10 shot attempts.
In the previous game against UNLV, four Colorado State players found their way into double digit scoring before the team went cold over the final several minutes and blew a late lead, eventually succumbing to the Rebels by a count of 79-74.
New Mexico has been without the services of arguably two of its best players, with senior Sam Logwood and junior guard Troy Simons being out of the lineup. The Lobos have experienced success in their absence, but might ultimately benefit if and when they make a return.
Logwood remains the team's leading scorer, but junior Anthony Mathis and senior transfer Antino Jackson—both guards—have emerged to play major roles in the last several games.
That duo combined to make 10 3-pointers in the win over San Diego State. Mathis posted 21 points, while Jackson put up 24—both career highs. Jackson's scoring outburst included the game-winning jumper, which he stuck with with 22.6 seconds left to play.
Rebounding the basketball could be a key statistic to keep an eye on during the game. Colorado State typically outrebounds its opponents by pulling down about 38 boards per contest, while New Mexico averages 33.7 rebounds and is usually on the losing side of that battle.
But UNM has flourished recently after making halftime adjustments and adapting as the game progresses. If Weir and his staff are able to continue that trend, then the Lobos could have a chance to get back to .500 overall and maintain its footing in the conference standings.
Robert Maler is the sports editor for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers basketball, football and tennis. He can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @Robert_Maler.