One of the best rivalries in college basketball remains largely unnoticed by most of the country. The quality of play isn’t the issue. The problem is the game normally ends after the deadline of many media outlets. Unfortunately, tonight’s game wasn’t the best representation of the rivalry.
Inspired by its always energetic fan base, New Mexico gave No. 6 San Diego State a clinic on sharing the basketball and stifling defense, leading to a convincing 58-44 win Saturday night at “The Pit.” The Aztecs (23-3, 12-2 Mountain West) were held to 32 percent shooting and totaled just four assists. The win for the Lobos (21-5, 12-2) halted a surprising run of success for San Diego State at “The Pit,” where they’d won five of their last eight trips in one of the most difficult arena to play in the country.
There was simply no answer for senior forward Cameron Bairstow. The Australian import bested the Aztecs post players, pouring in 26 points and pulling down 11 rebounds. Frontcourt mate Alex Kirk had eight rebounds and five blocks, and 2013 conference player of year Kendall Williams chipped in with 10 points and seven assists.
The Aztecs aren’t going to typically beat you with a lot of jump shots. Their fate hinges on athleticism and rebounding, as they rank 23rd in the nation in the glass cleaning department. Winston Shepard was their lone double-figure representative with 10 points and a team-leading six rebounds, but was plagued by foul trouble (four).
Both teams are considered decided locks for selection to the NCAA tournament. Under the direction of head coach Steve Fisher, the Aztecs have reached the tourney the past four seasons, highlighted by a spot in the 2010-11 Sweet Sixteen, losing 74-67 to eventual national champ, Connecticut. In that same timespan, the Lobos were selected three of the four seasons, with their best showing also a trip to the Sweet Sixteen, losing 59-56 to Louisville.
The level of dominance by San Diego State and New Mexico has been remarkable. Since the 2008-09 season, SDSU has shared two regular season titles and won two tournament titles. In turn, New Mexico has either won or shared four regular season Mountain West titles and captured the last two tournament titles. Additionally, the Lobos have eliminated SDSU from conference tournament play the past two seasons.
Due to a unusual mark in scheduling, both teams will meet in a rematch on March 8 at SDSU in the final game of the regular season, possibly to decide the winner of the conference crown.