Stevens: Lobos Appear Headed Into 'Grinder' Game With Fresno State

Jan. 11, 2013

New Mexico Lobos Men's Basketball - Mountain West -- The Pit

Saturday: 1 p.m. (MT) - No. 25 New Mexico Lobos (14-2, 1-0 MW) vs. Fresno State (6-8, 0-1)
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By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/

In a way, the motivation for the New Mexico Lobos and the Fresno State Bulldogs is exactly the same - for different reasons.

The Lobos need to win in The Pit because it's not wise to lose a home-court game in this dog-eat-dog Mountain West race. First rule: You must defend your house.

The Bulldogs need to win in The Pit because they need a road breakthrough to make up for their home-court loss to preseason favorite, San Diego State. The Bulldogs did not defend their house.

Second rule: Scratch out some road wins -- any way, any where.

On the surface, this game doesn't look to be the same thriller that the Lobos won Wednesday night in The Pit when No. 19/25 UNLV came to town and left 0-1.

In another way, it looks to be a Mountain West brawl of epic proportion.

These Bulldogs probably are better than their 6-8 record. They are noted for a scrappy defense and the Aztecs ran into some of that Bulldog bite in Fresno before escaping with a 65-62 Aztec win.

These Bulldogs might have a few edges to polish on offense, but they are junkyard dog ornery on defense. Consider:

  • They own a plus 50 steal margin over their opponents, 116-to-66.
  • They are plus 67 in points-off-turnovers, 231-to-164.
  • The Bulldogs have held 13 of its 14 opponents to under 70 points. They held SDSU to 65. They held Colorado to 50. They held UC Riverside to 30 -- 11 in the first half.

    What this means for Lobo fans is a Fresno State team that is going to come at the Lobos hard and try to make it difficult for the Lobos to score. They are going to push the Lobos into the ropes and pound on the body.

    And the Lobos sometimes have trouble shooting the ball. New Mexico is No. 7 in the Mountain in scoring offense (68.4), No. 7 in scoring margin (plus 6.5) and No. 8 out of nine teams in field goal percentage at .411 percent.

    The good news for UNM Saturday is that Fresno State is No. 9 in field goal percentage at .397 percent and dead last again in scoring offense at 62.1. Fresno has lost five of six games, giving up 91 at UCLA during that stretch.

    So, does the first team to 65 win? Maybe. We'll see. That's kind of what happened in the Fresno/SDSU game. But this game does promise to be another "grinder" for the Lobos, who have a way of winning grinders.

    The Lobos also are excellent on defense. They hold teams to .399 percent shooting. A curious thing about the Bulldogs' offense is that they average .397 percent overall in shooting and .423 percent from long range.

    Those percentages explain why Fresno State has launched more treys than any other team in the league. The Bulldogs have shot 132 times from behind the line. UNM has launched from long range 100 times. Fresno is No. 1 in the MW in 3-point percentage and UNM is No. 8 at .339 percent.

    Another telling statistic concerning the Fresno State offense comes out of the Mountain West scoring chart. The Bulldogs have no player in the Top 20 and only one player scratching his way into double figures: guard Tyler Johnson at 10.1 points per game.

    The Bulldogs also have Allen Huddleston with a 9.9 average and Kevin Olekaibe at 9.0 - also guards.

    With these numbers, the Bulldogs obviously have to win with defense and have to win by keeping the score down.

    The Bulldogs almost pulled the upset over SDSU despite allowing the athletic Aztecs to shoot 48.1 percent from the floor. That's a nice percentage on the road - or at home. Fresno shot only 36.2 percent from the floor, but beat the Aztecs at the free-throw line 14-of-17 to 7-of-12.

    You allow the Aztecs to shoot 48 percent, get out rebounded by seven boards, and you usually get burned. Fresno State hung around by giving up only five turnovers and creating 11. The Bulldogs also clamped down better on defense in the second half. SDSU shot 57.7 percent from the floor in the first 20 minutes and shot 39.3 percent in the second half.

    Obviously, it would be nice for the Lobos if they can get off to a fast start and challenge the Bulldogs to stay with UNM on the scoreboard. The Lobos don't always shoot well, but they know how to score.

    One way to score is to get the ball inside to 7-foot Alex Kirk, who burned the UNLV Rebels for 23 points. Kirk is averaging 12.1 points and is shooting 51 percent from the floor. He has a nice touch inside and outside.

    Kirk might have a size advantage most of the day on the `Dogs depending on how Fresno uses 7-foot freshman Robert Upshaw. Upshaw averages 19.1 minutes, 5.4 points, 4.5 boards and he has 11 blocks.

    Kirk averages 26.9 minutes and has 21 blocks. If Fresno doesn't give Upshaw more minutes, then Kirk will enjoy a height advantage over Upshaw's sub. The top-scoring Fresno State big man is the 6-8 Kevin Foster with a 7.7 average. Foster is Fresno's top board man with a 6.8 average.

    Fresno's top four scorers are guards: Johnson (10.1), Huddleston (9.9), Olekaibe (9.0), and Marvelle Harris (7.8). UNM gets 14.6 points per game from Kendall Williams and 11.2 from Tony Snell.

    The Bulldog's guard attack helps explain why the `Dogs prefer the 3-ball. These guards must be bombers. The Fresno defensive stats suggests something else.

    These Bulldogs must be brawlers, too.