The No. 22 Rams own the nation’s third-longest home win streak at 27 games heading into a battle with the No. 16 Lobos for first place in the Mountain West Conference on Saturday.
New Mexico (22-4, 9-2) has won 10 of the last 12 meetings with Colorado State (21-5, 8-3), and owns a one-game lead in the MWC.
The defeats came in each of the previous two seasons, and Moby Arena is expected to be a sellout - something that wasn’t happening not too long ago.
“Over the last couple of years, that energy has really changed,” Alford said. “Our last two trips have been near sold out or sold out and their home record has changed drastically.”
This contest is being billed as possibly the biggest home game in Colorado State’s history. New Mexico, which won the regular-season title and conference tournament a season ago, would like nothing better than to end the streak and take a two-game lead.
“We have a locker room full of guys who have won it and understand a championship run,” Alford told the Lobos’ official website. “They have a group in their locker room who is trying to break through.”
New Mexico won 66-61 at home Jan. 23 in these teams’ first meeting. Tony Snell led the Lobos with 23 points, two more than he had in three previous career starts against the Rams.
The Lobos led 54-32 with 12:26 left before the Rams nearly came all the way back behind Dorian Green, who scored 11 of his 14 points over the remainder of the game.
Colorado State finished with an unsurprising 42-28 rebounding edge. The Rams lead the nation in rebound margin at plus-13.0, and 6-foot-10 center Colton Iverson had 15 points and 14 boards compared to three in each category for Lobos 7-footer Alex Kirk.
“Iverson is one of the best centers in the league,” Kirk said. “I don’t really do excuses, but last time around I really didn’t give him my best shot.”
Colorado State could have entered this contest tied for first place, but it fell 61-59 at UNLV on Wednesday. Iverson had 16 points and 10 rebounds as the Rams were outrebounded for the first time all season, 38-31.
“Plain and simple, we got outworked, outlasted and outrebounded,” coach Larry Eustachy said. “It’s something our players will have to be held accountable for. We didn’t come in ready to play.”
The Rams had their six-game win streak snapped, a run that began after the first meeting with the Lobos. Green made 2 of 9 shots for eight points after averaging 19.0 points in his previous two games.
New Mexico has not played since overcoming 34.7 percent shooting in last Saturday’s 60-50 home victory over Boise State.
Neither of these teams shot well when they met in Albuquerque, with Colorado State at 36.8 percent and New Mexico at 36.5. Wes Eikmeier scored a team-high 20 points for the Rams.
These squads combined for 49 free throws in that meeting and lead the MWC in attempts.