New Mexico’s start in Mountain West play began ominously enough with a loss at San Diego State, but the 15th-ranked Lobos have rebounded to stay in contention for a conference title.
New Mexico looks to win its seventh straight Saturday when it hosts the Aztecs.
The Lobos (20-3, 6-2) lost their first two league games after a dominating run through their non-conference schedule. They struggled at San Diego State on Jan. 5 to open the Mountain West season, shooting 35.1 percent in a 74-64 loss.
That defeat, along with one four days later to UNLV, dropped New Mexico out of the Top 25 after the team began the week ranked 15th.
“There’s a lot of irony,” coach Steve Alford said Thursday. “Here we are four weeks later and we’re ranked 15th in the country again. We’re going to try and redeem ourselves a little bit. … Hopefully the second time around it works better.”
The Lobos have followed the loss to UNLV with six consecutive victories by an average of 13.3 points. They’re tied with the Rebels for second place in the Mountain West, one game behind 12th-ranked BYU.
New Mexico is coming off a 73-57 win at TCU last Saturday as Darington Hobson had 19 points, seven rebounds, six assists and five steals.
Hobson, the Lobos’ leading scorer at 15.0 points per game, had scored a combined 19 in the previous three games and shot 1 of 11 for five points in a win over first-place BYU earlier in the week.
“The games that I’ve been struggling, I felt like I was forcing it,” said Hobson, who was 6 of 8 from the field last Saturday. “Coaches said that I really wasn’t. I just had to get back to being aggressive.”
Hobson also struggled against San Diego State, finishing with 12 points on 4-of-17 shooting.
The Lobos resume play this weekend after securing their third straight 20-win season under Alford. New Mexico is looking to improve on a 13-1 record at home, where it’s holding opponents to 39.3 percent shooting.
While San Diego State got the better of the Lobos in their last meeting, Alford expects a different effort from his team. They will be looking to win seven straight conference games for the first time since 1997-98.
“Winning six in a row, I think our demeanor is different,” he said. “Will that make a difference in Saturday’s game? I don’t know, but we’ve at least experienced this. … This team is pretty good at learning from mistakes.”
San Diego State (16-6, 5-3), though, has won four of five, including a 70-48 victory over Air Force on Tuesday. Kawhi Leonard scored 15 points and Malcolm Thomas had 10 points and 12 rebounds.
“It was important,” said D.J. Gay, who had nine points and four assists. “We needed it going into New Mexico. … I think this game we took it to another level. We were doing things out there we weren’t doing in practice - switching, just being more vocal and communicating.”
The game especially was important for Thomas, one of four players averaging better than 10.0 points per game. He was held to a combined seven points in the previous two games after reaching double figures in six straight. He scored 18 and had 15 rebounds against New Mexico.
The Lobos had lost three straight at home against San Diego State before a 75-49 victory last season.