Game 3: November 19, 2006
McKale Memorial Center
New Mexico State was less than a second away from starting their season 2-0 Friday night. With :09 on the game clock, Loyola Marymount's star guard, Brandon Worthy, swished in an off balance three pointer that sent fans at Albert Gersten Pavilion into a frenzy. NMSU had one last shot at the basket but the attempt was blocked by Worthy who was then quickly swallowed by Lions fans who celebrated by storming the court.
Worthy led all scorers with 28 points. NMSU led by 15 at the break but watched as the Lions caught fire in the second half, making 12 straight shots at one point in amassing a 26-8 run. The Lions took the lead at 67-64 with less than two minutes to play. They had possession and were leading 68-67 with less than 20 seconds to go when Worthy was stripped of the ball. NMSU converted the lay-up with 12 ticks remaining, just enough time for Worthy to pull off his miraculous shot from just outside the arc.
Worthy, starting at the top of the key dribbled to his left under fierce pressure. When he made his move to the basket, it appeared as if the NMSU defender had done his job as both he and Worthy began to fall. Somehow, Worthy kept his balance long enough to propel himself toward the basket at an awkward angle. From the looks of things, nobody in the crowd could possibly have thought that the shot was going to fall when it left Worthy's hands, but it did.
Both teams displayed a gritty toughness not always associated with west coast basketball. NMSU finished the game with 30 team fouls while LMU had 25. Offensively, things weren't much better as NMSU had 26 turnovers to LMU's 23. NMSU shot poorly from the field (38.6%) but did make 8 of 17 three-point attempts.
LMU's head coach, Rodney Tention (ex-Arizona basketball assistant), was ejected from the game at the 8:17 mark of the second half after receiving his second technical for slamming his hand down on the scorer's table. Tention was disputing a highly questionable offensive foul call on Worthy who himself appeared to have been fouled on what would have been a potential three point play.
The Lions were trailing by 11 at the time of Tention's ejection.
NMSU must now regroup in time to face a hungry bunch of Wildcats who lit up the scoreboard against NAU. Both teams play similar up tempo styles. Whichever team is more successful at disrupting the offensive flow of the other will win.
Here's how I think the teams will fare against one another:
In two games, Budinger has shown that he might actually be even better than the hype. He is scoring within the flow of the offense and thus far has been the most consistent Wildcat. Shakur played very well against NAU but will be challenged by NMSU's aggressive defensive style and propensity to mix up their defenses. Shakur must limit turnovers while distributing the ball. Radenovic will have an opportunity to score inside against the Aggies. The Wildcats must attack the basket and look to create for their teammates. NMSU gambles a lot on defense and if the Wildcats are smart with the ball, they should be able to get good looks all night long.
NMSU played frantically against LMU in the second half. They took several bad shots and drew a handful of offensive fouls (charges) by over dribbling in the lane. NMSU can hit the 3-point shot. They made 8 of their first 12 from behind the arc. LMU's defense tightened up down the stretch and the Aggies missed their final five 3-pointers when it counted. NMSU does a good job of crashing the offensive boards which created several 2nd and 3rd opportunities. The shots just weren't falling against the Lions though as they finished the game shooting 38.6% from the field. The Aggies' offensive woes were further compounded by their 26 turnovers.
OFFENSIVE EDGE: ARIZONA
NMSU has a small line up. They feature two 6'6" forwards, a 6'4" guard, a 5'11" guard and a 7'0" center. The problem is that their center, Martin Iti, scored zero points against the Lions and seems to only be playing for his defensive prowess. NMSU can score as evidenced by their 43 first half points, but they can also be shut down (only 26 2nd Half points). Arizona on the other hand can score from all five spots on the floor. NMSU will mix up their defenses and it may cause problems early. However, if Shakur, Prince, Dillon and Wise can keep their composure and get Arizona into the right offensive sets, the Wildcats will get open shots and are skilled enough to make them.
Arizona has yet to have a strong defensive performance this season. The good news is they've only played two games. The bad news is they can't seem to string together several defensive stands in a row. If they don't get a steal on the perimeter or a blocked shot down low from Jordan Hill, they seem to be at the mercy of how well their opponent is shooting the ball. NMSU struggled to score against LMU's 1-3-1 and 2-3 Zones in the 2nd Half. Expect Arizona to incorporate a bit more zone defense on Sunday than they've shown thus far. If they do, I'd like to see Prince play down low as I think he runs and defends the baseline better than Shakur in Arizona's version of the 1-3-1.
NMSU plays multiple defenses and disguises them well. Many times against LMU Friday night, NMSU would start in a quarter-court press, fall back into a 2-3 Zone and then when the Lions would reset their offense at the top of the key, they'd switch and pick up man-to-man. The Lions were rattled in the 1st Half, scoring only 23 points. NMSU will play a 2-3 Match-up Zone, a physical man defense, a 2-2-1 Press and the abovementioned quarter-court, soft trapping press. They will run the full court press after almost all made free throws. When they're playing man, similar to Arizona, they will switch on almost every pick.
DEFENSIVE EDGE: NEW MEXICO STATE
NMSU gets the edge here simply because they are willing to play so many different types of defenses. Doing so puts so much pressure on a point guard to quickly realize what is happening on the floor. They'll start out playing man-to-man and they'll do so about as aggressively and physically as the Wildcats will see all season. They are undersized and that may end up being their downfall. They will have a chance to rattle Arizona, though, because their scrappiness can be frustrating. If the Wildcats are willing to bang a bit back, they'll be fine on offense. On defense, expect Arizona to give up some transition buckets to the run n' gun Aggies who have the ability to knock down shots from anywhere on the court when they get hot.
Arizona is capable of being as good as they want to be on the boards. Hill is emerging as a legitimate frontline player and should get rewarded with more minutes after his performance against NAU. Sunday's game will take a total team effort as NMSU will crash the offensive boards hard. Expect a lot of shot attempts in this game as both teams like to get out and run. If NMSU shoots under 40.0% as they did against LMU, their will be a ton of missed shots and the team who wins the rebound battle will most likely win the game.
NMSU had 13 offensive boards against LMU. They are not the tallest team the Wildcats will face all season, but they will challenge the Wildcats on the boards because of their athleticism, explosiveness and all-around hustle. This team plays hungry and if it weren't for a poor shooting 2nd Half against LMU, the Aggies would be 2-0 with wins over the Lions and the University of Pacific, a perennial postseason tournament qualifier.
REBOUNDING EDGE: ARIZONA
NMSU is athletic but so is Arizona. The X Factor is Marcus Williams. After a disappointing game against NAU, expect Williams to make up for lost time by getting cheap buckets by working hard on the offensive glass. Expect McClellan to do the same. Shakur should continue to board well on the defensive end while Radenovic should be in double figures in this category by night's end. It won't be easy, but expect the Wildcats to shoot better from the field then NMSU which will give the Wildcats more opportunities to be in better position to grab defensive boards.
The LMU/NMSU game was very sloppy as both teams combined for 49 turnovers and 55 fouls. Granted, the officials did neither team any favors by calling several fouls well away from the play or far from the basket, which completely prevented any kind of offensive flow from developing.
That said, watching NMSU gave me the impression that playing a fast-paced, albeit sloppy game is what they excel at. They play very aggressive defensively and incorporate a lot of clutching and grabbing tactics as they fight through screens. The officials were calling fouls on Friday night in their game against the Lions so that hurt the Aggies. If the officials allow the teams to play physically on Sunday it could very well work to the Aggies' advantage.
Arizona has split their first two games and although they've gotten solid performances out of certain players in each, they haven't quite yet gelled together as a team and it shows. NMSU is going to pressure the Wildcats all over the floor. The Wildcats will need to match the Aggies' aggression by stepping through traps, making crisp passes and attacking the hole when they catch an Aggie lunging for and missing on a steal attempt.
The Wildcats are taller and longer than the Aggies, but NMSU might be the stronger team. Radenovic will have his hands full as bodies will be flying at him from all directions. It's imperative that he remains out of foul trouble so as to maintain a true scoring threat on the inside for Arizona.
If NMSU can bait the Wildcats into taking an abundance of outside shots, they'll have a chance to pull off the upset. If Arizona is willing to make the extra pass against a scrambling Aggie defense, fans will get treated to more than their fair share of electrifying slam dunks from Arizona's explosive wingmen.
I expect to see Arizona play a bit more Zone Defense than they're accustomed to playing to stifle the Aggies' running game and force them to beat the Wildcats by making long range jumpers. NMSU may hit shots for a while but they'll make fewer than the Wildcats over the course of the game. It'll be close at halftime as NMSU proves that they are a much better team than their ranking shows. In the end, though, the Wildcats will wear the Aggies down and pull away for the win.
ARIZONA 95 NAU 79