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ALBUQUERQUE — They’re big.
Nothing has changed about the New Mexico State University Aggie men’s basketball team’s core.
They still have 7-foot-5 center Sim Bhullar and he has a nice supporting row of Aggie bigs, including 6-10 Tshilidzi Nephawe and 6-10 Renaldo Dixon.
The Lobos cut down those trees in Las Cruces. Can they repeat the performance in The Pit and get the sweep tonight?
“They have a really good team,” said Lobo head coach Craig Neal. “I think they are going to come in here and expect to win.”
It’s a difficult thing to step into The Pit and leave with a victory. The Aggies probably are good enough to do that, but they have to change the way they played in Las Cruces earlier this month in a 79-70 University of New Mexico win.
NMSU head coach Marvin Menzies was not happy with his Aggies’ performance in that loss. Simply put: there wasn’t enough fire for a NMSU team defending its home turf against its in-state rival.
Tonight, the Aggies have to change a lot of things. They also have to figure out how to take one of the Lobos’ big three out of the scoring column in a big way, although they did it in Las Cruces and still lost.
Cameron Bairstow paces UNM with a 20.2-point average. Kendall Williams is scoring at a 19.7 clip and 7-foot Alex Kirk has a 17.1 average.
It’s a difficult thing to take all three points of that triangle out of the UNM scoring charts. If you can cut into the stats of one of them, you have a chance. Kansas held Kirk to five points and five boards on Saturday and beat UNM by 17.
In their first meeting, Bairstow was a scoring thorn for the Aggies. He hit 20 points on 7-of-19 shooting and burned the Aggies with his head fake and his drive.
NMSU’s Nephawe told the Las Cruces Sun-News that he now has a better feel for how to guard the shifty Bairstow.
“Playing against (Bairstow) the first game kind of helped me get a feel for how he played and what he wants to do,” Nephawe said. “He wants to drive it against me.”
That might be the Aggies’ strategy, too: attacking the rim.
Menzies has an athletic bunch capable of driving to the hoop and forcing contact. This year, the Aggies have shot 402 free throws in their 13 games and their opponents have shot 296.
Menzies didn’t hold back any punches following his Aggies loss to UNM. He said the Lobos played better, and his Aggies lacked the proper emotional intensity.
The Aggies have a chance at payback on Tuesday. They are coming off an 81-69 overtime win at Drake which pushed NMSU’s record to 8-5. The win snapped a four-game Aggie losing skid.
The Lobos are 7-2 and coming off a loss to Kansas in Kansas City.