Fresno St.-New Mexico Preview
By MATT BEARDMORE
(AP) -- Despite suffering through a brutal four-game shooting stretch - one of its worst slumps in years - New Mexico has managed to beat two ranked teams in that span.
After going 2-2 in those games, the 25th-ranked Lobos will look to improve their accuracy as they host Fresno State on Saturday.
New Mexico (14-2, 1-0 Mountain West) has shot below than 40 percent in four straight contests for the first time since the last five games of 1999-2000, making 36.8 percent overall in the current span.
"Not too many teams in the country are 14-2, shooting 40 percent (actually 41.1)," coach Steve Alford said. "That tells me how hard our guys work and the fight that they have in them. From a coaching standpoint, that is very, very pleasing."
The fight in the Lobos was apparent in a 65-60 victory over No. 24 UNLV on Wednesday, as they won despite hitting 38.6 from the field - 6 for 19 from 3-point range - as well as going 15 of 29 from the free-throw line. New Mexico also didn't get discouraged by a 38.9-percent shooting effort at then-No. 8 Cincinnati on Dec. 27, beating the Bearcats 55-54.
While the poor shooting also resulted in losses to St. Louis and South Dakota State, the Lobos are set to face the only team in the MWC with a worse percentage from the field.
Fresno State (6-8, 0-1) is making 39.7 percent on the season and has lost five of six, but the Bulldogs have to be feeling encouraged coming into this game after a 65-62 home loss to No. 16 San Diego State on Wednesday.
Making its debut in MWC play, Fresno State held a one-point lead in the final three minutes and had a chance to tie the game as freshman Marvelle Harris' 3-pointer glanced off the rim with time expiring.
"They play extremely hard and they are getting better, we've gotten better," coach Rodney Terry told the school's official website.
The Bulldogs, losers of nine straight to ranked opponents, are hoping Tyler Johnson improves after suffering an ankle injury in the opening minutes Wednesday. The junior guard, averaging a team-high 10.1 points, is listed as day-to-day.
"We're not going to rush him back too quick if he's not ready," Terry said.
If Johnson isn't available, senior Garrett Johnson could slide into the starting backcourt alongside Kevin Olekaibe and freshman Aaron Anderson.
That group could have its hands full with the Lobos' three-guard lineup of Hugh Greenwood, Tony Snell and leading scorer Kendall Williams, who tops the team with 14.6 points a contest. Fresno State's 6-foot-8 forward Kevin Foster, who had 18 points and seven boards Wednesday, could also be at a major disadvantage against New Mexico center Alex Kirk.
The 7-footer had a season-best 23 points with nine boards against UNLV. Kirk also hit two 3-pointers for the second consecutive game.
"The thing that makes Alex so difficult is that he can score on the block and can also score from a distance," Runnin' Rebels coach Dave Rice said. "He is an improved player and their guards are so good that they make you pick your poison, especially on the home floor."
The Lobos, 8-1 at home, will go for an eighth consecutive Mountain West victory at The Pit.
New Mexico leads the series with Fresno State 8-7 after an 83-81 home win Feb. 13, 1999, when both teams were in the WAC.
Updated January 11, 2013