The Sports Network
By Gregg Xenakes, Associate College Basketball Editor
FACTS & STATS: Site: Thomas & Mack Center (18,500) — Las Vegas, Nevada. Television: CBSCSN. Home Record: UNM 13-3, BYU 13-1. Away Record: UNM 6-7, BYU 10-1. Neutral Record: UNM 2-1, BYU 6-1. Conference Record: UNM 8-8, BYU 14-2. Series Record: BYU leads, 74-55.
GAME NOTES: It is all about revenge tonight as eighth-ranked BYU takes on the New Mexico Lobos for the third time this season as the team collide in the semifinals of the 12th annual Mountain West Conference Tournament at the Thomas & Mack Center.
The top-seeded Cougars have lost a total of just three games all season and only two in conference play, but both of those league setbacks came against the Lobos so there is certainly some payback involved in tonight’s battle. BYU, which won this event back in 2001 and has a record of 14-10 overall in the tourney, hit the floor against ninth-seeded TCU on Thursday afternoon in the quarterfinals and actually struggled against the Horned Frogs before pulling out the 64-58 win to advance.
As for the fifth-seeded Lobos, their journey in the 2011 MWC Tournament began on Thursday as well as they defeated fourth-seeded Colorado State by a score of 67-61. New Mexico, which lost to the Cougars in that 2001 title game, is now 7-10 in the event overall and is trying to get back to the championship round for the first time since 2005 when it took down Utah for the trophy, 60-56.
With respect to the all-time series between these two schools on the hardwood, BYU still leads by a count of 74-55 but the team lost to the Lobos at home last week by a score of 82-64, and also bowed in Albuquerque in late January in an 86-77 decision.
The winner of this meeting advances to take on either UNLV or San Diego State in the title game on Saturday.
The Lobos may have struggled early on in conference play this season, but the squad is hitting its stride at just the right time. Yesterday, UNM managed to get away with shooting just 39.3 percent from the floor and 6-of-19 beyond the arc and still take the win over Colorado State. Drew Gordon played tough inside as he recorded a double-double consisting of 13 points and 13 rebounds, while Kendall Williams again showed why he is one of the most exciting youngsters in the conference with his team-best 16 points. Before fouling out A.J. Hardeman filled out his stat line with 10 points, nine rebounds, four steals, three assists and a couple of blocked shots in an effort to pick up the slack left by Phillip McDonald (3-of-13). Dairese Gary, who finished with nine points and five assists, remains the leading scorer for UNM after 32 games with his 14.3 ppg and he is also first in assists with 175, but perhaps the emerging star for the Lobos is Gordon who is averaging a double-double with 12.7 ppg and 10.7 rpg. However, sleeping on Williams (11.2 ppg) and McDonald (10.9 ppg) would also be a huge mistake.
Playing against a team that had dropped 13 in a row to close out the regular season, you would have thought the Cougars would have had an easy time of it against TCU yesterday, but that simply wasn’t the case. Wile Jimmer Fredette was able to produce a game-high 24 points for BYU, he shot just 7-of-21 from the floor, while Charles Abouo accounted for 14 points and eight rebounds and Noah Hartsock 10 points, seven boards, four assists and three blocked shots for the Cougars. Having a very difficult game was Jackson Emery, who was just 3-of-13 from the floor, including 1-of-8 behind the three-point line, as the team finished a disappointing 6-of-23 out on the perimeter overall. Clearly the focal point for the Cougars continues to be Fredette, the nation’s leading scorer at 27.8 ppg, but the loss of Brandon Davies due to a violation of the school’s honor code continues to haunt the group. Without Davies, the Cougars need not only Hartsock (8.7 ppg, 6.0 rpg) to hit the boards a little harder, they need everyone to make better shot selections in order to avoid too many missed opportunities.
After the painful display by the Cougars yesterday, it’s difficult to see them really making a run at New Mexico tonight. Perhaps knowing that they are already locked into the NCAA Tournament should be good enough for the Cougars right now because they just don’t have the strength on the inside to hold off Gordon.