New Mexico Lobos Mountain West Basketball – At Fresno State
Who/When: 5:02 p.m. (MT), Saturday -- New Mexico (12-3, 3-1) at Fresno State (8-10, 1-4)
On TV: ESPN3
On The Radio: 770-AM KKOB/Lobo Radio Network
GoLobos.com: Game Story, Statistics, Video Interviews
By Richard Stevens – Senior Writer/GoLobos.com.
In the aftermath of a Pit Classic gone bad (UNLV won), New Mexico Lobo Coach Craig Neal knows exactly what his Lobos have to do: “Pick up one somewhere else.”
The Lobos are somewhere else Saturday night. They are in Fresno, facing the Tyler Johnson/Marvelle Harris-led Fresno State Bulldogs – the team that beat the team (Air Force) that beat the team (UNLV) that beat the Lobos.
“We’ll see what we’re made of Saturday,” said Neal.
What Neal would like to see in Fresno – beside UNM’s fourth Mountain West win – is a Lobo team that will bounce back with a junkyard-dog attitude, a killer instinct, a champion’s edge and a unflinching defense. “If they don’t get it back (edge), it’s going to be a long year,” said Neal.
The Lobos didn’t play badly in their 76-73 loss Wednesday to UNLV, but maybe if the Lobos had played at a higher level, then the Rebels might not have played so well. That should be a psychological itch the Lobos should find as motivation in Fresno.
The Lobos don’t need Fresno State to play well Saturday in their gym. The Bulldogs have some talent, have some shooters and they kicked out a 71-65 win in Fresno over Air Force. Johnson was a beast in that win. He had 25 points, eight rebounds and four assists. Cezar Guerrero had 18 points.
“Fresno is a tough place to play,” said Lobo Cameron Bairstow, who burned UNLV for 27 points in a MW heavyweight Pit fight between two teams that refused to flinch.
The Bulldogs have lost seven of their past nine games and are 1-4 in the Mountain with losses to UNLV (75-62), Boise State (86-79), Colorado State (76-57) and San Diego State (68-60).
The ‘Dogs will have a double-edged sword of motivation on Saturday. They are defending their turf. It’s the Lobos, who will get everybody’s best shot.
“They have some talented guys,” said Neal. “They have a young group, but they have some players who are playing well.
“Anytime you go on the road in this league, it’s tough,” said Neal. “We’re going to have to play a lot better defensively. The rest of the games are not going to be easy.”
The Lobos are 2-0 on the MW road so far in the 2014 Mountain run, but the wins did not come easy: 72-69 in overtime at Wyoming and 69-65 at San Jose State.
New Mexico is paced in scoring by Bairstow at 20.4 points a game. Kendall Williams averages 18.1 points and Alex Kirk is at 14.1 with a 9.4 board average. Williams has 5.4 assists per game.
The Lobos are 12-4 on the season and Neal is still trying to develop players to replace the trio of talent he lost last year in Tony Snell, Chad Adams and Jamal Fenton. That group combined for 20.8 points a game last year, but the experience and defense those Lobos brought to the court was the biggest loss.
“It’s a long season,” said Coach Neal. “We’ll see what they’ve learned and how good they want to be. The bottom line is what you do as a team.”
Johnson and Harris give the Bulldogs a big bite on the edge. Johnson, a 6-foot-2 senior guard, has scored 20 or more in the past four games, averages 15.2 points and is Fresno’s top board man with a 7.0 average. Harris averages 15.4 points for a Bulldogs’ team that has shot 386 treys. Fresno’s top five scorers all shoot above 32 percent from long range.
The ‘Dogs can’t match the Lobos’ muscle inside, so the 3-ball might be a key on Saturday. Fresno’s top three scorers are guards: 6-4 Harris, 6-4 Johnson, and 6-1 Guerrero. Paul Watson, a 6-7 forward, averages 9.9 points and 4.6 boards. The Bulldogs likely will start 6-9 Alex Davis and 6-11 Tanner Giddings averages 18.6 minutes.
The MW schedule has the Lobos playing eight teams twice and two teams once: Fresno and Air Force. The SDSU Aztecs are the only undefeated team in the league at 4-0. SDSU has a win at Fresno. Nevada is 4-1 and New Mexico is 3-1. There are five teams in the MW with two losses.
Mountain West Standings......
|San Diego State||4||0|
|New Mexico Lobos||3||1|
|San Jose State||0||5|