Air Force-New Mexico Preview
MAR 04, 2014 12:57p ET
Before New Mexico can focus on a regular season-ending showdown with its Mountain West Conference co-leader, it has one more hurdle to clear.
New Mexico (23-5, 14-2) is tied atop the Mountain West with No. 10 San Diego State, which could face a stiff challenge Wednesday night at UNLV before hosting the Lobos on Saturday. New Mexico, which beat the Aztecs 58-44 at home on Feb. 22, would prefer to carry its surge into the weekend's highly anticipated meeting.
The Lobos have shot 48.7 percent while winning five straight by an average of 13.4 points since losing 71-70 at Boise State on Feb. 12. A winner in 16 of 18, New Mexico has had four winning streaks of at least four games and extended its latest by overcoming an early 14-point deficit to win 72-58 at Nevada on Sunday.
"It's impressive," first-year Lobos coach Craig Neal said. "I've got a tough-minded group ... a resilient group."
Senior forward Cameron Bairstow had 22 points, and Kendall Williams scored 11 and added 10 assists to become the Mountain West's all-time leader with 591 assists. The Lobos overcame a 40.7-percent first-half shooting performance by hitting 57.1 percent of their shots while outscoring the Wolf Pack 45-27 over the final 20 minutes.
"I thought our guys hung in there," Neal said. "We got off to a slow start, but to outscore them by 18 in the second half was big."
Bairstow, the Mountain West's leading scorer at 20.3 points per game, went 7 of 13 from the field and 8 of 10 at the free-throw line.
Williams, meanwhile, recorded the sixth double-digit assist game of his four-year career after he had two during a 67-58 home win over Utah State on Feb. 25.
"Assists mean so much," said Williams, the league leader with a career-high 5.1 per contest. "It means you're not only creating for yourself, but you're obviously creating for other people. It's a nice record, no doubt."
Williams had 10 assists to go with 21 points during the 89-88 loss at Air Force last March that snapped New Mexico's 13-game series winning streak. Though a 3-pointer with 3.5 seconds left led the Falcons to victory in the most recent meeting, the Lobos have won six straight at home in the series, and the last two at The Pit by a combined 53 points.
Second-to-last in the Mountain West, Air Force (11-16, 5-11) has shot 36.0 percent and scored more than 56 points once while losing three of five. However, the Falcons have won two of three on the road.
Sophomore guard Tre' Coggins averages a team-leading 16.3 points and led the Falcons with 14 during Saturday's 93-67 home loss to UNLV.
The Falcons dropped both meetings this season with a ranked San Diego State team to follow their home victory over then-No. 12 New Mexico last season. Air Force has never defeated a Top 25 squad on the road.