This is just the third meeting, and the first in 27 years, between the Longhorns and the other Aggies, with the series tied at 1-1. NMSU qualified for its 17th overall appearance in the NCAAs with a WAC Tournament championship win (on its own floor) against Utah State, 72-70. The Aggies also knocked off No. 13 and WAC regular season champ Nevada.
NMSU gets balanced scoring from its starting rotation while enjoying a deep and productive bench. Junior F Justin Hawkins (6-5) leads his team with 15.6 ppg while senior G Elijah Ingram is the club's three-point specialist (41 percent from outside the arc) and is generally clutch at the charity stripe. Junior C Harita Passos (6-9) patrols the paint. He shoots a team-best 65 percent from the floor but (for a guy his size) averages just 8.9 points and 5.9 rebounds per game.
The Aggies averaged 78.2 ppg this season while shooting 48 percent from the field. But Texas has stepped it up defensively during the past 10 outings, limiting opponents to 40.2 percent (251-of-624) shooting. Texas is 8-2 during that stretch, losing only a pair of close games to top-seed Kansas. The Horns have also been lighting it up from three-point range as of late. Texas has converted 39.7 percent (297-of-248) of his three-balls and is on pace to set a school single-season record for three-point FG percentage (current record is 38.8 percent set two years ago).
NMSU has a once-proud history, reaching the Final Four in 1970 (under current Illinois coach Lou Henson) but fell to UCLA when the Bruins were at the height of their dynasty. The Aggies had five straight winning seasons in the 1990s and peaked in 1999. That was the last time the program punched its Dance card, but bowed out in the First Round to Kentucky. The program hit rock-bottom with a 6-24 mark in 2005 before enjoying its current revival with third-year coach Reggie Theus who now has rock star status in Las Cruces.
The two-time NBA All-Star (Chicago), Theus has emerged as one of the most high-profile young coaches in this year's Tournament. Theus helped UNLV reach the Final Four 30 years ago this month but the Los Angeles native has become just as renowned for his sharp-dressed, GQ appearance. On several occasions this week, Theus has debunked his Hollywood aura. His father owned a Los Angeles custodial company and, as such, Theus spent many of late nights and early mornings scrubbing floors with his father before he passed away during Theus' junior year in high school. This week, Teus was quoted in USA-Today as saying, "There's a perception in America that has always been there: If you have green eyes and light skin (as an African-American), you're soft. You have no idea how many guys I had to beat up because of that."
Theus parlayed his good looks and basketball background into a three-year gig as a high school hoops coach on the television sitcom "Hang Time", but his passion wasn't acting. Eventually, Louisville coach Rick Pitino hired Theus as his top recruiter. But NMSU came calling when the Aggies stumbled to their worst season in nearly 40 years. The 16 wins in 2005 was progress; the 25-8 mark (combined with the WAC Tournament title) resulted in a No. 13 seed in Theus' second season.
Overall, NMSU is 10-18 in NCAA Tournament games while Texas is 28-27. The Horns are 12-4 in NCAA tourney First Round contests since the field was expanded to 64 teams in 1985. Coach Rick Barnes is 12-8 at Texas in NCAA Tournament games. The Horns are just one of nine schools to have advanced to each of the last nine Tournaments.
The winner of Friday night's game will face the survivor of USC-Arkansas at approximately 4:10 p.m. (CST) Sunday.