New Mexico-Nevada Preview

The Associated Press

New Mexico is hoping to catch its breath before the postseason begins.

The 12th-ranked Lobos have won five straight and clinched the Mountain West Conference crown ahead of Wednesday night's visit to last-place Nevada.

New Mexico (25-4, 12-2) won its final home game to secure the outright title, 53-42 over Wyoming on Saturday. The Lobos showcased their defense, which is limiting opponents to 38.8 percent shooting and an average of 60.4 points.

"We feel very fortunate that to play in a league of this caliber to wrap up a league championship meant a great deal," coach Steve Alford said. "I'm very, very proud of this team."

Alford's focus all season has been on winning the title after his club captured a share of the regular-season crown and the tournament title a year ago. He is hoping to give his team a mental break this week.

"This week, I want the players to relax. When I say relax, I don't want them feeling pressure," Alford said. "They've been under so much pressure and that pressure's going to kick up in another week."

His players may not have gotten the message.

"We want to have good momentum going into the conference tournament," senior Chad Adams said. "We have to come out and play like our backs are against the wall."

Alex Kirk has picked up his play over the last three games, averaging 19.7 points and 8.7 rebounds. Kirk had a team-high 15 points against the Cowboys and Cameron Bairstow chipped in with 13.

The Lobos have been a balanced team all season with five players averaging between 7.4 and 13.9 points.

Nevada coach David Carter said his team must play a "perfect game" to defeat New Mexico.

"We've got one home left, senior night and I expect a pretty emotional game for us going into New Mexico," Carter said. "We've got to find a way to try to get a win. I know it's very difficult with a very, very good team coming in."

Nevada (12-16, 3-11) trailed by two at halftime and fell 75-62 at New Mexico on Feb. 2 in the first-ever meeting between these schools. The Wolf Pack's high-scoring guard tandem of Malik Story and Deonte Burton combined for 33 points.

"We can build on that because we played them fairly close and I thought it was competitive and I thought our kids played hard," Carter said.

The Lobos shot a season-high 56.0 percent in that contest. Hugh Greenwood scored 15 points and Alford was pleased with Adams, who chipped in 10.

The Wolf Pack have dropped a season-high five straight as they get ready for Story's final home game.

Story played three seasons at Nevada after transferring from Indiana and owns the school record for career 3-pointers with 241. He helped the Wolf Pack to the Western Athletic Conference regular-season title a season ago before they moved to the Mountain West.

"It will be an emotional night Wednesday night for him," Carter said. "He's had a great career here, been able to win a conference championship last year, play in the postseason."

Story and Burton combined for 42 points in Saturday's 80-63 home loss to UNLV.