New Mexico State and Arizona have a natural geographic rivalry that is not renewed often enough. Of Division I schools, only Arizona State and Northern Arizona are closer to Arizona; only UTEP and New Mexico are closer to NMSU. The Aggies and Wildcats match up tonight for the 100th time, Arizona holding an all-time edge of 60-39. Most of the Arizona advantage comes from the very early years, with the Aggies winning only six of the first thirty games from 1917 through 1933, when both schools joined the new Border Conference. During the conference rivalry and since then, the two teams have split very evenly, each usually winning at home. Since 1971, this is only the fourth Aggie-Wildcat contest. The first three, in Tucson, were all won by Arizona; last year's score was 83-57. This is a mid-major rarity: the return game of a home-and-home series with a school above the Red Line.
Expectations for the Aggies were high in Las Cruces. They are off to a 5-1 start, heading into only their second home game, and they played well in the Great Alaska Shootout, winning two of three. Arizona came in 4-2, after an exhibition BLU to Seattle Pacific, and losing their last two, to Mississippi State in New York and to San Diego State at Tucson.
The Pan American Center filled to almost 8,000, about 1,000 short of the building's revised capacity of about 9.000 (maybe more about that another time), and the place was rocking. Most of the crowd followed the request to wear white, but there were a couple of pockets of Arizona red and blue, including a busload of students. My first impression was that the Aggies were clearly the bigger team, something I had not expected. After the Aggies won the opening tip, center Hamidu Rahman scored on his third try after two offensive boards. Forward Wendell McKines added two quick #superhoops on breaks keyed by turnovers forced by the Aggie press, and coach Sean Miller was calling an Arizona timeout down 10-2 after less than two minutes.
The Wildcats responded with a 10-2 run of their own and the game was on. Arizona was somewhat quicker than NMSU and got several #omgdunx and layups off the set offense, despite the Aggies trying several different defenses to slow them down. The Aggies out-rebounded the Wildcats by ten or so, and kept the game close. The difference in the first half was the #superhoop; six different Wildcats scored seven triples to give Arizona a four point halftime lead.
Half time introduced Las Cruces to Dave the Horn Guy--pretty talented, pretty bizarre--and both the Aggie cheer squad and the Sundancers, the dance group that performs with the Roadrunner Revue band. (We also got to see the Arizona cheerleaders at the game....not many squads make the road trip to southern New Mexico.)
The second half was closely contested much like the first. The Aggies tied the game at 44 in the first minute, then the Wildcats came back to tie at 56 at about 12 minutes to play. McKines had an outstanding game, with 28 points and 10 boards. The Aggies defense was better at the three point line in the second half (Arizona got only two), but the quicker Wildcats got too many open layups. In the last eight minutes, the Wildcats pushed their lead to ten. A last Aggie run cut the lead to three with one minute to play.
Starting the final minute, Arizona brought the ball up and the Aggie defense held for 34 seconds, only to foul Wildcat Kyle Fogg with one second on the shot clock. Fogg missed the front end of the one-and-one, but Arizona got the rebound, and made four free throws on fouls to stop the clock in the final minute. As happens about five times in six, the school from above the red line won, 83-76. Overall it was a nice performance by an improving Aggie team, but it would have been much nicer to pull off the RLU.
After the game, it was hard not to look back on a few missed opportunities for the Aggies. Senior point guard Hernst Laroche uncharacteristically missed the front end of a one-and-one with nine tenths of a second left in the first half. Both McKines and center Hamidu Rahman missed and-one opportunities in the second half. And of course, the lost rebound on the missed Arizona free throw at the end of the last Aggie run. A change to just one of those....oh well, on to the next contest.
Final Note: NMSU is among the few teams (are there others?) to have its first seven games included in the 800GP, thanks primarily to Sam Wasson (@AgsBleedCrimson) covering the Great Alaska Shootout games against Central Michigan, Southern Mississippi, and San Francisco. Someone close to Hattiesburg could keep the streak alive for the Sunday rematch against the Golden Eagles....road trip anyone?
ARIZONA 83, at NEW MEXICO STATE 76 11/29/2011
ARIZONA 5-2 (0-0) -- J. Perry 6-11 2-2 15; N. Johnson 8-14 1-1 19; S. Hill 5-8 1-1 12; K. Fogg 2-6 2-3 8; J. Turner 3-7 6-10 12; J. Mayes 2-4 2-2 8; B. Lavender 1-1 0-0 3; A. Chol 1-2 0-0 2; K. Natyazhko 2-3 0-0 4; K. Parrom 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 30-58 14-19 83. NEW MEXICO STATE 5-2 (0-0) -- C. Kabongo 4-14 7-11 15; W. McKines 10-18 4-4 28; H. Laroche 2-8 2-3 6; T. Watson 1-5 0-0 2; B. Sy 2-5 0-0 4; H. Rahman 6-12 1-2 13; D. Mullings 1-8 0-0 2; T. Nephawe 2-3 2-3 6. Totals 28-73 16-23 76.
Three-point goals: ARIZ 9-21 (K. Fogg 2-5; B. Lavender 1-1; S. Hill 1-2; K. Parrom 0-1; J. Mayes 2-3; J. Perry 1-3; N. Johnson 2-4; J. Turner 0-2), NMSU 4-21 (W. McKines 4-7; H. Laroche 0-5; T. Watson 0-2; B. Sy 0-2; C. Kabongo 0-3; D. Mullings 0-2); Rebounds: ARIZ 37 (J. Perry 12), NMSU 38 (W. McKines 10); Assists: ARIZ 19 (S. Hill 7), NMSU 9 (C. Kabongo 3); Total Fouls -- ARIZ 19, NMSU 17; Fouled Out: ARIZ-J. Turner; NMSU-None.