New Mexico-San Diego St. Preview


San Diego State is considered one of the marquee teams in the Mountain West Conference and a lock to reach the NCAA tournament.

New Mexico has a chance to make a statement on its otherwise quiet ascension to the top of the league standings.

The 13th-ranked Aztecs seek their fifth straight win over the visiting Lobos in a conference showdown Wednesday night.

San Diego State's 65-63 loss to No. 11 UNLV combined with New Mexico's 48-38 win over Wyoming on Saturday created a three-way tie atop the conference, though the Lobos have yet to achieve the national recognition of their fellow leaders.

A win Wednesday could help in that sense, though New Mexico (20-4, 6-2) will be facing a tough task.

The Aztecs (20-4, 6-2) haven't dropped consecutive games since Jan. 9-13, 2010, and they haven't lost to the Lobos since an 88-86 overtime defeat Feb. 6, 2010.

Chase Tapley's 22 points couldn't help San Diego State avoid Saturday's loss to the Runnin' Rebels, though, and coach Steve Fisher didn't take the defeat lightly.

"When you lose a game like this, you feel like a piece of your heart was ripped out," Fisher said.

The Lobos aren't immune to that feeling, having lost 75-70 at The Pit to San Diego State on Jan. 18 after leading by one at halftime. They were blown out 80-63 three days later by UNLV, marking their only losses in their last 20 contests.

Coach Steve Alford said his squad needs to play better this time around against the Aztecs.

"We had a really bad second half against San Diego State," Alford said. "We didn't shoot the ball well, we didn't take care of the ball and we were stagnant offensively, and then we shut it down and didn't guard."

New Mexico guarded very well Saturday, holding Wyoming to 25.9 percent shooting and allowing its fewest points since beating Weber State 62-32 on Dec. 23, 2007.

Though Wyoming slowed the tempo contributing to the low totals, Alford was impressed with his team's effort - especially that of A.J. Hardeman, whose five points started a 13-2 second-half run that helped overcome a 23-19 halftime deficit.

"I thought this was his best game of the year," Alford said. "He has been practicing really well and he sees the finish line (as a senior). I think he sees the finish line and he has been a great teammate for all four years."

Fellow senior Phillip McDonald scored a season-high 20 points off the bench in the first meeting with San Diego State, which got a season-high 22 from Xavier Thames.

The Aztecs will look for a better performance from Tapley, who shot 3 for 11 and finished with 12 points in that contest.

"Chase is a three-year starter for us, he's a scorer, he's got no fear, he can get into rhythm, he can make hard shots and he's a scorer," Fisher said of Tapley, who leads the Mountain West averaging 16.2 points. "When he makes one, the next one, you better watch out because he's going to shoot it. He's done that before and hopefully he will do it again."

San Diego State has won 27 of its last 30 conference home games and eight of the last 10 meetings at home against New Mexico.