New Mexico vs. Fresno State: Preview, TV Schedule, Live Stream, Radio, Odds
Seventh place New Mexico hosts second place Fresno State
Can New Mexico repeat last year’s late season success?
WHO: New Mexico Lobos (11-13, 5-7 MW) vs. Fresno State Bulldogs (18-6, 9-3 MW)
WHEN: Saturday, Feb. 16 — 5:00 PM MT/4:00 PM PT
WHERE: Dreamstyle Arena – The Pit; Albuquerque, New Mexico (15,411)
ODDS: Fresno State -3.5
While Fresno State head coach Justin Hutson isn’t thinking about Mountain West Conference Tournament seeding quite yet, the race to finish in the top five in the Mountain West is starting to get interesting.
“Right now it’s a little too early. You just want to focus on the process with New Mexico. If we can keep winning games that will take care of itself,” said Hutson.
And though Saturday’s contest between the New Mexico Lobos (5-7 MW) and the Fresno State Bulldogs (9-3 MW) doesn’t have major and immediate implications, every game counts towards earning a higher seed in the conference tournament, avoiding a first round game (if a top five seed) and presumably playing against easier competition as seeding moves toward that oh-so-distant 1 seed (if you’re not Nevada).
With a win, the Bulldogs can guarantee their status as second place for the time being and remain within 1.5 games of Nevada (assuming the Wolf Pack can beat Wyoming in Laramie on Saturday). For the Lobos, it’s really about avoiding playing a first round game in the conference tournament and getting a chance to make late-season magic happen again under second year head coach Paul Weir, who strung together 7 games last season en route to a 7 point loss in the conference tournament championship game against San Diego State.
Though Paul Weir made it a point not to overlook San Jose State, which the Lobos beat by 32, he recognizes that Fresno State is a much different team than the Spartans, who have yet to win a game in the conference season.
“This is really a buildup to Saturday [against Fresno State]. . .It’s obviously a big game. If we can build and take some things from this [game against San Jose State] that’s going to help us on Saturday then this would have been a good game for us, but if we’re not able to take this forward and use it in a positive way into our next game, it was just one isolated, independent game,” noted Weir.
And the Lobos will have to hold their home court against Braxton Huggins and the Bulldogs back-court, something they struggled with in Fresno.
Huggins, who scored 22 against the Lobos when the teams met at the Save Mart Center, has scored more than 25 points per game in each game sandwiched between the rematch between the Bulldogs and the Lobos tallying 26 points, 31 points and 26 points against Utah State, UNLV and Boise State respectively.
Huggins said regarding his recent scoring success, “[My coaches] give me confidence to be aggressive, shoot the ball – my teammates do as well. They say if I got a lane, take it, if I’m open, shoot it and that’s exactly what I do.”
Prior to playing at Fresno State, the 6-4 senior from Bakersfield, CA played at New Mexico State, where Lobos head coach Paul Weir formerly worked as an assistant coach before becoming the head coach of New Mexico State men’s basketball team.
Since heading back to California, Huggins has been a major player for Justin Hutson, who said of the high-achieving guard, “He has no fear and he’s talented . . .I think you’ve got to have both. You can’t have a guy who’s that talented out there but he’s scared to take the shot or he thinks his coaches don’t want him to take it or his teammates don’t space the floor for him.”
Fresno State has players who are fearless, a trait that New Mexico has to find consistently. The Lobos have struggled to find players, and a team identity, that consistently plays in control and without fear. While there have been flashes of the fearless, physical, in control style that Justin Hutson referred to, the Lobos have yet to string together games with the fearless intensity that helped them beat Nevada on January 5.
But that may be changing. In his last three games, the Lobos’ Keith McGee, who has seen an uptick in minutes played at the point guard position, has shown an ability to score, opening the offensive options for the rest of his team. Having scored 19 and 20 points in his team’s most recent wins over San Diego state and San Jose State, players like Anthony Mathis, Corey Manigault, Makuach Maluach and Vance Jackson have been able to produce offensively.
“Corey’s had a long year in a lot of different ways, but in the last two or three weeks has really comitted himself to practicing harder and I thought – and I actually noted Vance [Jackson] as well. We have some guys that are just practicing a lot better and it’s showing up in the games,” Weir said of his team.
But it’s not just the players that has Justin Hutson on alert.
What does he say makes The Pit so difficult to play in, even in what has been dubbed a “rebuild year” for New Mexico?
“16,000 every night, you know, win, lose or draw. And it’s loud and your at altitude and they always have really good teams and really good coaches.”