Colorado State (9-5) at New Mexico (9-3)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, January 4, 6:05 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: The Pit/Bob King Court (15,411) -- Albuquerque, New Mexico. Television: ESPNU. Home Record: CSU 9-3, UNM 5-1. Away Record: CSU 0-2, UNM 1-1. Neutral Record: CSU 0-0, UNM 3-1. Conference Record: CSU 0-1, UNM 0-0. Series Record: New Mexico leads, 71-43.
GAME NOTES: There's a race to 10 wins going on in Albuquerque today, as the New Mexico Lobos host the Colorado State Rams in Mountain West Conference action in The Pit.
The Lobos are one of the three remaining MWC teams entering the weekend that have yet to kick off their league slate, the other two being Boise State and Wyoming. New Mexico is 5-1 at home under first-year head coach Craig Neal who has taken over for the departed Steve Alford. Coach Neal and the Lobos have had plenty of time to prepare for this contest, having been out of action since defeating Grand Canyon on Dec. 23 by a score of 80-68 at home. The victory was the second in as many games for UNM.
As for the Rams, they are hitting the road for the first time since visiting Texas-El Paso way back on Nov. 19, a trip that resulted in an 82-74 setback. Colorado State has played 10 straight games at home since, winning seven of those tests. However, on Wednesday the squad kicked off the new calendar year with a 71-61 loss to nationally-ranked San Diego State in the conference opener.
According to CSU sources, the Rams trail in the all-time series by a 71-43 margin and have won only 12 times in 58 chances in Albuquerque. The teams will also face off against each other three weeks from now at Moby Arena in Fort Collins to complete the regular-season series.
Colorado State never led against the Aztecs on Wednesday, falling behind by as many as 11 points while being thoroughly outscored in the paint, 40-16. The Rams finished the meeting with just 38.5 percent shooting from the floor and 3-of-14 behind the 3-point line. Daniel Bejarano accounted for a career-high 22 points and eight boards, but converted a mere 6-of-20 from the field, followed by J.J. Avila and Jon Octeus with 15 and 10 points, respectively.
Avila, a 54.2 percent shooter from the floor through 14 games, generates 19.2 ppg for the program and is also first on the list for assists (51) and steals (17), not to mention placing second on the glass (6.4 rpg). Bejarano, while hitting on a mere 34.5 percent of his field goal chances, including a dismal 25.7 percent beyond the arc, picks up with 14.4 ppg, 9.5 rpg and better than three assists per contest.
Grand Canyon, one of the newest additions to the Western Athletic Conference, tried to keep up with New Mexico in The Pit and found it wasn't all that easy as it fell by a dozen points. Except for Deshawn Delaney who finished with seven points, every starter ended in double figures for the Lobos, led by Cullen Neal with 18 points and seven assists. Kendall Williams accounted for 15 points and eight dishes, Cameron Bairstow and Alex Kirk 14 points apiece, the latter also pulling down a game-high 11 rebounds and making three blocks.
The Lobos may have found a new source for offense in Neal who, despite coming off the bench in all but three games, has led the team in scoring the last two outings and is now up to 8.8 ppg thanks to his 45.0 percent shooting beyond the arc. Bairstow (20.1 ppg, 7.2 rpg) and Williams (18.6 ppg, 62 assists) have much more influence on the offensive direction of the Lobos, as does Kirk (15.2 ppg, 9.5 rpg) who is a force at the defensive end of the floor as well with 33 rejections.
While the Rams certainly have plenty of talent on the roster, the key will be how well they perform in the paint where, at least for this year, the Lobos probably hold the advantage.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: New Mexico 77, Colorado State 71
01/04 10:37:38 ET