Peerman's Power Rankings: 10 best things in New Mexico sports this week (Jan. 7)

Jan. 7—Welcome to Peerman's Power Rankings (PPR), the 10 athletes, teams and story lines that have Journal sports editor Lucas Peerman's attention. Look for a new power rankings list every Sunday.

Have a suggestion, complaint or compliment? Email or contact me on X @LucasPeerman.

10. NMSU men's basketball

Though NMSU and UTEP are separated by fewer than 60 miles, their men's basketball teams have competed in different conferences for the past six-plus decades. The latter fact changed this season when NMSU joined Conference USA. The teams always play a home-and-home series, but since conference wins are now at stake, Thursday's tilt at the Pan American Center was about more than Borderland pride. NMSU won 63-53, improving its season record to 7-9 and 1-0 in CUSA. This 60-second KTSM clip sums up the NMSU-UTEP rivalry:"It's always meant something. Now it means more."

9. Trevelin Queen

This former NMSU Aggie has bounced around between the G League stardom and the end of NBA benches the past few years. This season is no different. Queen is averaging 24.3 points, 7.8 rebounds and 4.4 assists in 16 games for the G League's Osceola Magic and last week got the call-up to the big league Orlando Magic. Queen's logged 30-plus minutes in two of the three games he's played for the injury-riddled Orlando squad and though he's only averaging a shade over 3 points a game, he's had a few highlights, including this steal and and-one layup.

8. Tony Sanchez

New Mexico State's new head football coach fired up the fan base with this quote at his introductory press conference: "We don't wanna win anymore — we expect to win." A few days later, Sanchez was pictured with the team's likely new starting quarterback, Deuce Hogan, a former four-star recruit who played at Iowa and Kentucky before committing to the Aggies this week. Hogan, who in high school was a reality TV star — and mentioned in the same breath as Anthony Richardson and Bryce Young, both starters in the NFL this season — has had a tough go of things in college. PPR will be watching to see if Sanchez can rejuvenate Hogan's trajectory, because the fan base will expect no less.

7. UNM men's basketball

Geoff Grammer has christened this year's squad "The Team of Steal" for its propensity for court thievery. Currently, the Lobos rank 11th nationally. Unfortunately, the Lobos couldn't steal a win in Fort Collins, falling 76-68 to No. 13 Colorado State, in their Mountain West opener on Tuesday. However, back home in the Pit and with the Man of Steel, Shaquille O'Neal, sitting courtside on Saturday, UNM badgered Wyoming all evening long, scoring 28 points off 23 Cowboys turnovers to win 77-60 and even its Mountain West record at 1-1 and improve to 13-2 overall. This coming week? A road tilt at UNLV and a home match versus last season's national runner-up, San Diego State, an expected sellout.

6. Jesus Licon

The Highland guard continues to impress, averaging 37 points a game per 32 minutes, which according to MaxPreps, puts him fourth in the nation in that stat. His best game of the season may have come Dec. 29 when he scored 30 in the fourth quarter (THAT'S 30 POINTS IN EIGHT MINUTES) en route to a school record 54 for the game and a 75-69 overtime win over St. Pius. He followed that by scoring 31 points in a 55-54 overtime win over West Mesa. The Hornets are now 9-2 and no doubt will challenge for that Blue Trophy come March.

5. Cam Dyer

La Cueva's star quarterback, who led the Bears to the 6A state tile in November, added to his trophy collection this week when he was named New Mexico Gatorade Player of the Year. PPR moves him up a spot in the rankings for how grateful he is to his family, teachers and teammates in receiving the award (peep the replies in this X post).

4. Shaq & Coop

Two NBA legends were in the Pit on Saturday. One has five NBA titles, a Los Angles Lakers record, and the other is Shaquille O'Neal, who managed only three titles for the Purple and Gold (Shaq would later get a fourth ring with the Miami Heat). During the game, UNM honored both Michael Cooper, a star for the Lobos in the 70s and the Lakers in the 80s, and Shaq. The Diesel happened to be in town on business (he was DJing at a local club) and is a friend of UNM Athletic Director Eddie Nuñez as both have ties to LSU. Seeing Shaq come out of the Pit tunnel and later seeing Shaq and Coop embrace courtside was an unexpected, and welcome, birthday gift for New Mexico on its 112th birthday.

3. UNM's state flag jerseys

The only better birthday gift was the statehood jerseys worn by the UNM men's and women's basketball teams on Saturday. PPR loves the homage to the best state flag in the country and kudos for asking the Zia Pueblo for its blessing. A men's/women's doubleheader on the Saturday closest to Jan. 6 should be an annual tradition.

2. Bella Hines

New Mexico has never had a girls basketball player the caliber of Eldorado guard Bella Hines, who picked up an offer from national champion LSU this week. She's averaging 33.7 points a game, which ranks fifth in the nation, according to MaxPreps. On Dec. 23, Hines scored a career high 53 points in leading the sixth-ranked Eagles to a 59-46 win over No. 9 Rio Rancho. She outscored one of the top 10 teams in the state by herself! With that kind of performance, you might be asking what's a girl gotta do to be No. 1 on PPR?

1. Cameron Dixon

An athlete putting her college sports future on the line to donate a kidney to her mom? That's worthy of PPR's top ranking. For former La Cueva High soccer star Cameron Dixon, now with Division I Portland State, the decision was a no-brainer. Journal reporter Ollie Reed Jr. writes:

Dixon's mother, Jamie Ellman, who suffers from an inherited genetic disease called PKD/PLD, or polycystic kidney and liver disease, went into liver failure last spring and desperately needed a donor. But when Dixon stepped up, her mom resisted. Her daughter's collegiate soccer career had already been abbreviated by COVID and an injury, and Ellman did not want her to miss her final year.

"I was her coach in AYSO (American Youth Soccer Organization)," Ellman, 53, said. "She worked so hard her whole life — club soccer, varsity soccer and varsity basketball at La Cueva. She broke her foot and missed her junior year in college. For me, to think of her giving up her senior year, to think about her ending her soccer career and never playing again kind of broke my heart.

"To her it was a no-brainer, but to me it was the last resort."

Read the whole story:

Honorable mention

Conflict in Cleveland: Around 1,100 wrestlers from 50 teams in four states packed into the Rio Rancho Events Center over the weekend for what may be the most competitive tournament of the year. Congrats to all the grapplers who won titles.

Eastern New Mexico men's basketball: The Greyhounds put on an amazing rally on the road against a Division II ranked team, but ultimately fell short. ENMU was losing 80-62 at No. 11 Angelo State with 2 minutes, 40 seconds left in the game. The Greyhounds would score another 23 points (or a point every 7 seconds) before the final buzzer, but it wasn't enough as they lost 88-85. Still, an incredible effort.

Brian Mendoza: awarded it 2023 Knockout of the The Year to Rio Rancho native Brian Mendoza, whose left hook, followed by a right-left combination, sent Sebastian Fundora to his back in the seventh round of their WBC interim super welterweight title match in April.

End of the bench: The UNM women's basketball team lost its Mountain West home opener, 64-56 to Boise State, on Saturday. Good news for the Lobos: Four of its five starters scored in double figures, and the fifth starter scored 9 points, giving UNM a balanced attack that in theory is hard to stop. Bad news: The team's bench went 0-for-6 for 0 points. All season, the Lobos have struggled to get production when the starters take a rest. If the Lobos' non-starters remain a non-factor, then talking about sustained success in conference play is also a non-starter.

Previous Peerman's Power Rankings

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