The University of New Mexico men's basketball team should be at full strength for the first time in what might feel like an eternity to some people.
Between injuries, suspensions and dealing with personal issues — the Lobos have grown accustomed to playing with a short roster. But they are expected to have everyone available as UNM hosts Utah State in its "Lobos Love Pink" game Wednesday evening.
New Mexico (12-14, 7-6 MW) only had six scholarship players available when it faced Utah State on Jan. 31 earlier in the season. UNM was still able to make it a close contest, but ultimately fell 89-80 to the Aggies.
That loss was the first of three the Lobos have suffered in their last four games — their lone victory coming against San José State, which is winless in conference play.
Utah State (14-12, 7-6 MW) has been trending upward, winning four of its last five games — a run that includes the early triumph over New Mexico. In their most recent matchup on Feb. 10, the Aggies downed Boise State by a score of 71-65.
The Lobos have had difficulty putting together a full 40-minute effort at both ends of the floor lately, blowing a double-digit lead against Boise State and Air Force in their last two games and nearly doing the same against San José State before finally closing things out.
In the first matchup against Utah State, the Lobos shot just 37.1 percent from the floor in the first half — though they only trailed by four at the break.
New Mexico nearly pulled off an improbably comeback to upset the Aggies, thanks to catching fire in the second half with 64 percent shooting, but seemed to run out of steam at the end.
But the Lobos showed they are capable of playing well over long stretches and could set the tone if the team can get off to a hot start.
Junior guards Anthony Mathis and Chris McNeal went off for 25 and 21 points, respectively and freshman Makuach Maluach chipped in 15 — scoring 10 of those in the second half.
The freshman has shown an ability to get free in the paint over the past several games. Maluach posted a career-best 26 points in the team's last game against Air Force and could be poised for another big night.
The player with the biggest night in the first meeting between the team's was sophomore sensation Koby McEwen — having his way with a game-high 31 points.
Three other Aggies ended up with double-digit scoring nights as the starting five shouldered nearly the entire scoring load. USU got just four points from its bench in that game.
New Mexico could test that bench and try to exploit that potential advantage if it is able to get the Aggies in early foul trouble.
The Lobos will likely need to do a better job at defending the 3-point line this time around as well. McEwan did the most damage from beyond the arc for the Aggies, going 6-of-8 from downtown.
Both teams connected on 13 long-distance shots, but UNM has often enjoyed the edge in that statistical category and will need to close out and contest on those attempts.
The game is scheduled for a 7 p.m. start time and Dreamstyle Arena aka The Pit and will be carried on the Mountain West Network and on 770 KKOB-AM Lobo Radio Network.
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.