With just five league games to play, the race in the Western Athletic Conference is anything but over. Just two games separate fourth place (Hawai'i at 7-5 in league play) from seventh place Boise State (5-7). One of the teams between those two is New Mexico State, the Broncos' next opponent Wednesday night in Las Cruces. Coach Reggie Theus's Aggies have a 10-14 season record, are 6-5 in the WAC and 6-4 at home. Included are two losses to UTEP and tough losses to UCLA and Texas Tech. However, New Mexico State is fresh off an 83-77 upset of Utah State in Logan last Saturday night which completed a season sweep of USU. Couple that result with the fact that, despite their losing record, the Aggies are averaging 6,744 fans at home, and the game presents another challenge to Coach Greg Graham's Broncos.
New Mexico State is leading the WAC in scoring during conference games at 74.5 points per league game. They are also dead last in scoring defense, allowing 75.7 points. If the game comes down to free throws, this game will feature the top two teams in the league at the charity stripe. The Aggies are hitting an impressive 76 percent of their shots; Boise State is second at 72.8%.
As was the case against Louisiana Tech the Broncos better watch their back--New Mexico State leads the league in steals with 7.55 per game. Prior to the game against Tech, I pointed out that Daevon Haskins of the Bulldogs led the league in steals. Coby Karl promptly went out and was picked blind by Haskins to the tune of eight turnovers.
Redshirt sophomore Tyrone Nelson (6-9, 210, So.) leads the club at 17.8 points (19.1 in conference) and 8.7 rebounds a game. Nelson also has 41 assists and 39 steals. Elijah Ingram (6-0, 190, Jr.) is averaging 14.5 points (17.2 in the WAC), leads the team in assists with 63, is an 83 percent free-throw shooter (90.6% in conference) and is the leading 3-point threat (49-22) for the Aggies. However, Ingram leads the team in turnovers with 74. Senior guard Mike Mitchell (6-0, 175) completes the trio of Aggies hitting double figures at 13.8. He also brings more to the court than scoring, dishing out 40 assists and getting 32 steals on the season.
Ted Knauber (6-3, 180, Jr.) is also a 3-point shooter (34-90) and averages 7.2 points a game. The other starter will be either David Fisher (6-6, 220, Jr.), the team's second leading rebounder at 6.4 per game, or Shaun Davis (5-11, 170, Jr.), who is second on the team in assists with 56. Fisher is also second on the team in blocked shots with 19, while Davis starred at the College of Southern Idaho in Twin Falls before coming to New Mexico State.
Coby Karl's recent scoring spree has shot him all the way up to 2nd in the WAC in conference scoring. The junior from Wisconsin is now averaging 19.8 points in conference play. Only Nick Fazekas of Nevada (23.4) is ahead of Karl. The difference there is that Nevada is in first place while Boise State is not. Tez Banks has turned up his game and is now seventh in the WAC in conference rebounding with 6.7 caroms per game. Kareem Lloyd is now ninth at 6.3. Those two's inside play are just as important to the Broncos' chances as Karl's scoring is, if not more so.
Boise State defeated New Mexico State 73-63 earlier this season in Taco Bell Arena. Mitchell had a career night with 26 points for the Aggies, hitting 11 of 19 shots and getting four steals. In the game, New Mexico State scored 38 points in the paint to just 20 for Boise State. Banks will have to continue his excellent play inside to turn that tide.
Who knows what the next turn will be in Boise State's rollercoaster season? Can this team build momentum for the conference tournament and for an eagerly anticipated season next year? One thing's for sure--it will be interesting, as it is next to impossible to get a read on this team. Tune in to 670 KBOI for all the action Wednesday night!