Stevens: Alford's Lobos Face Motivated Aztecs Saturday in San Diego
Jan. 25, 2013
New Mexico Men's Basketball - On The Mountain West Road
Saturday: 2:05 p.m. (MT) - No. 15/17 New Mexico Lobos (17-2, 4-0 MW) at San Diego State (15-4, 3-2) - Viejas Arena
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
The tide of desperation has to be pounding on the backs of the San Diego State Aztecs like the Pacific Ocean pounds a La Jolla beach.
The Aztecs should greet the New Mexico Lobos like a cornered beast greets a tormentor - or like a basketball team backed up to the cliff's edge.
Which is what the Aztecs are.
Simply put, San Diego State needs this game against New Mexico. They need it badly. Heck, so does the entire Mountain.
For the Aztecs, they simply can't afford to lose at home to both UNLV Rebels and Lobos and expect to live up to preseason predictions that they will wear the 2013 Mountain West crown.
The Aztecs already are in a hole having dropped a Viejas Arena run with the Rebels. If they fall to No. 15/17 New Mexico on Saturday, the Aztecs will be three games behind UNM in the loss column, and still facing trips to Vegas and The Pit.
So, ya' think maybe the Aztecs will be up for the Lobos?
"You have to protect home court," said Aztec Coach Steve Fisher.
That protection will not come easy. The Lobos do so many things right on both ends of the court and are multi-pronged in their offensive attack.
You don't know which Lobo is going to hurt you the most, but you know that all of them will hurt you in some way - and often in key situations. There are many reasons the Lobos are ranked No. 15/17 and carry a 17-2 slate into San Diego.
These Lobos have an uncanny ability to focus in pressure times and do what is necessary to win. They get to the free-throw line. They play very hard.
"You've got to give 100 percent, if not, you'll get bounced out," said UNM's Snell. "San Diego State and UNLV were ranked before and now they're not.
"It's a quick switch that happens just like that. You can't back down, you've got to play 100 percent every game."
Actually, the Aztecs still carry a ranking, but, at No. 25, they are on the edge of that coaches' poll, too.
The ranking doesn't matter much to the Aztecs on Saturday. They simply need to slap a loss on the Lobos. They simply need to defend their Viejas Arena and return to contenders' status.
"This league is very unforgiving," said Fisher, whose 3-2 Aztecs also fell at Wyoming. "This is probably the best it's been from top to bottom. I don't think you could consider the outcome of any game an upset."
That will be the case on Saturday when UNM visits. The Aztecs are good and a loss in Viejas really wouldn't be a major setback for the Lobos. The Lobos are 17-2 and road tough and a UNM win at SDSU would not be a shocker.
But the Aztecs can't afford to be shocked - not if they expect to make a serious run for the 2013 MW title.
The Aztecs might be 3-2 in the Mountain, but they are still good, still dangerous. They just ended a 23-week ride in The Associated Press Top 25. They are still good enough to win the MW Tournament in Vegas and still likely to grab their fourth consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament.
They have weapons to throw at the Lobos. They are 8-1 in Viejas, losing to UNLV. They are coming off a solid, impressive, 78-57 win at Nevada, a win Fisher said "allows us to feel a little better about who we are."
That was a lot of points for the SDSU team that scored nine points in the first half at Laramie. The Aztecs also made a statement on defense, pulling out of a tight 56-52 lead into a 74-53 count. Fisher said his Aztecs guarded like they knew the win was important - which it was.
They will need to guard the same way against UNM - a game that is even more important.
The Aztecs are led by Jamaal Franklin, the 2012 Mountain West Player of The Year. Franklin is averaging 17.8 points and 9.6 boards, and has a team-high 61 assists and 27 steals. He is their catalyst. He is the only player in the Mountain ranked in the top six in scoring, rebounding, assists, steals and free-throw percentage.
Chase Tapley averages 14.9 points and Xavier Thames, battling a back problem, is at 9.7.
The Aztecs are similar to UNM, UNLV and most of the top tier teams in the Mountain. They do a lot of things well and when they shoot well, they can be extremely tough. The Aztecs shot below 40 percent in losses to UNLV and at Wyoming (29 percent). They shot above 50 percent in the win at Nevada.
In the overall stats, they are listed ahead of UNM in scoring, scoring defense, scoring margin, field goal percentage, field goal defense and 3-point defense.
The Aztecs are long, lean, quick, athletic, talented - and motivated. They have their backs to the Mountain West wall.
And here comes the Lobos.
NEW MEXICO LOBOS 2012-13 ROSTER/STATISICS