By Andy Swanson
When the University of New Mexico Lobos head to Fresno to take on the Bulldogs this Wednesday, UNM will try to accomplish something that has been hard to achieve for most Mountain West Conference teams this season: Win a conference road game.
Just like a veteran tennis player holding serve in a heated match, the teams at the top of the MWC standings have done an excellent job of protecting their home court in conference play.
New Mexico, Colorado State and San Diego State have a combined home record of 14-1, with the sole loss for the Aztecs coming at the hands of a dangerous 5-4 UNLV squad.
With each school taking care of business at home, road wins against teams in the bottom half of the standings will likely be the determining factor in which program emerges as the MWC regular season champion.
The Lobos and Rams have done an excellent job of winning road games over lesser opponents like Wyoming and Boise State, while third place SDSU and fourth place UNLV each have head-scratching road losses on their resumes.
SDSU’s 55-45 loss against Wyoming in Laramie on January 19th and subsequent 70-76 defeat by the Air Force cadets on February 2nd is something that Jamaal Franklin and the Aztecs may not be able to overcome.
Back-to-back road losses against Boise State and Fresno State will likely keep superstar freshman Anthony Bennett from winning the regular season MWC crown in what may turn out to be his only season at UNLV.
Keeping some distance between UNLV and SDSU in the standings is key for the Lobos in the second half of conference play, which is why winning favorable match ups like Wednesday’s game against the Bulldogs is important.
At 8-14 (2-7 in conference) on the season, Fresno State is a team that ranks near the bottom in every single offensive statistic, including rebounds, assists, and points per game.
The one thing that head coach Rodney Terry’s team does exceptionally well is limiting opposing offenses to just over 60 points per game. The Bulldogs rank 62 in the country in scoring defense, just nine spots behind the Lobos who also play excellent team defense.
New Mexico defeated Fresno State 72-45 earlier this season behind a strong inside presence from Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow. The two dominated the paint and took advantage of a smaller Fresno team that was without their top scorer Tyler Johnson.
Johnson is healthy again after missing a few games with an ankle injury. His presence in the lineup will give Fresno a much needed outside scoring threat against UNM, as it was clear in the first meeting that the Bulldogs do not have an answer for Kirk and Bairstow inside.
Fresno State will be without 7-0 Center Robert Upshaw due to a three game suspension for violating an undisclosed athletic department policy. Kansas transfer Braeden Anderson will help fill the void of the absent Upshaw, and fellow frontcourt player Kevin Foster will provide some added depth after missing the first contest against New Mexico at the Pit.
UNM leading scorer Kendall Williams missed the first meeting due to a one game suspension for breaking a team rule. Williams will no doubt look to make up for his absence in the first game and will likely be a huge factor in the game tomorrow night.
The Lobos are only 7-point favorites according to Vegas odds makers, which shows that the wise guys know just how difficult it is to win a road game in the Mountain West Conference.
For UNM to hold onto first place in the MWC, it is important for them to take care of their home court and win road games against lesser opponents. It is Fresno State’s serve, but the Lobos are looking for break point.
On the air: There is no television broadcast of the game. Scott Galletti will have the call on the Lobo Radio Network.
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