Ranked for the first time in more than 10 years and off to its best start in 36 seasons, New Mexico sets out to take care of unfinished business from last season as it hosts Creighton on Saturday.
The 19th-ranked Lobos - one of 11 undefeated teams remaining in Division I - are in the Top 25 for the first time since March 1999 and enjoying their first 11-0 start since the 1973-74 team opened with 12 victories.
This matchup against the Bluejays (4-5) in the Mountain West-Missouri Valley Challenge, though, gives coach Steve Alford’s team a chance to gain a measure of revenge from a surprising loss in Omaha, Neb., from November 2008.
New Mexico had its way with Creighton for most of the game, opening up a 16-point lead with 10:10 left and owning a 72-63 advantage with 3:39 to play. The Bluejays, however, responded with a 17-0 run and scored 23 points on their final 10 possessions en route to an 82-75 victory as P’Allen Stinnett finished with 30 points - 10 in the game-turning burst.
“We felt we played really well, but didn’t handle things down the stretch,” Alford told the school’s official Web site. “(Creighton) is a very good basketball team. We have a lot of respect for the way they go about doing things.”
Yet it is the Lobos who have been commanding respect heading into Saturday. They have scored at least 75 points in all but one game and cracked the national rankings on the strength of an 84-81 win over then-No. 16 Texas A&M last Saturday at the Toyota Center in Houston.
New Mexico showed no signs of a letdown Wednesday, hitting a season-high 16 3-pointers in a 96-57 rout of Northern Arizona. Roman Martinez scored 17 to lead six players in double figures as the Lobos made a season-best 55.7 percent of their shots from the field and received 35 points from their bench - all in the second half.
“We had pretty good spurtability,” said Alford, whose team compiled 24 assists to four turnovers. “This is one of the most unselfish teams I’ve ever had.”
New Mexico is shooting 53.0 percent in its last three games, 56.7 percent (38 for 67) from 3-point range.
Creighton may need to recapture the memories from last season’s win to begin a turnaround prior to Missouri Valley play. The Bluejays already have dropped games to previously ranked teams Dayton and Michigan, and they have yet to win outside Nebraska in five tries.
Coach Dana Altman’s team, though, does have some momentum after a 77-62 victory Wednesday over Savannah State. Freshman Ethan Wragge had 18 points and six rebounds off the bench and hit four 3s, while Stinnett contributed 10 points and a career-high nine rebounds.
The 6-foot-7 Wragge is averaging less than 14 minutes but scoring 9.0 points per game. He has made a team-high 21 3-pointers while shooting 48.8 percent from beyond the arc.
Kenny Lawson leads Creighton with 11.9 points per game while Stinnett is second at 10.2.