Stevens: Alford's Lobos Look To Cut Down Giants From Las Cruces

Dec. 14, 2012

New Mexico Lobos Men's Basketball - In The Pit

Saturday : 4 p.m. -- New Mexico State (5-4) at Lobos (10-0)
On The Radio: 770-AM KKOB - Lobo Radio Network
On The TV: CBS Sports Network (Dish 158, DirecTV 613, Comcast 274)
GoLobos.com: GameTracker, Game Story, Stats, Quotes, LoboTV

By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com

If somehow, instead of taking a bus to Albuquerque, the New Mexico Aggies climbed down a bean stalk and dropped into The Pit, it would be totally appropriate.

`Cause these Aggies the New Mexico Lobos will try to cut down to size are -- fee-fi-fo-fum -- giants.

"I thought USC would be the biggest team we played all year and that's not true," said Lobo Coach Steve Alford. "They (Aggies) are bigger than USC. This is a huge basketball team. They have great length."

The Aggies' have a front line that includes 7-foot-5 Sim Bhullar, 6-10 Tshilidzi Nephawe, 6-11 B.J. West, 6-10 Renaldo Dixon and 6-8 Bandja Sy.

"They are bringing a lot of guys back who are very physical," said UNM's Hugh Greenwood. "We are definitely going to be undersized."

Of course, all these Aggie Behemoths won't be on the court at the same time. There isn't enough room! And the local fire marshal probably wouldn't allow it.

"That's incredible size," said Alford. "They present problems."

It's obvious the Aggies present problems. They are huge, quick and athletic. What isn't so obvious is why these Aggies are only 5-4 on the year. They do so many things well. Consider:

  • The Aggies shoot 45.5 percent from the field as a team. That's good.
  • The Aggies have five players shooting 50 percent or better. That's really good.
  • The Aggies entered the week in the NCAA Top 50 in 3-point field-goal defense (27.5) and field-goal defense (37.9).
  • They hold opponents to 57.6 points per game.
  • These Aggie giants are No. 19th in the nation in rebounding margin at a plus 9.6.

    "They have a plus 10 rebound average," said Alford, rounding the number up. "That's the thing that really comes to the forefront with them. That's an incredible rebounding advantage. So, I think it starts with the backboard.

    "If we defend the way we are capable of defending, we kind of ease the pressure of the backboard."

    For sure, you have to do something about all those hot-shooting Aggies led by 6-foot-2 sophomore guard Daniel Mullings whose 13.9 average is produced by shooting 57 percent from 3-point range and 54 percent overall. This Aggie is deadlier from 22 feet than he is from 15 feet.

    The 6-5 Tyrone Watson shoots 51 percent, 6-10 Nephawe shoots 51 percent, 6-10 Dixon shoots 57 percent and the 7-5 Bhullar shoots 63 percent.

    Bhullar's shooting mark makes you think that maybe - just maybe - this big boy is throwing down a few dunks and getting a few short follow-up shots.

    Bhullar averages 4.6 boards and only averages 14.8 minutes per game. Sy is the big boarder with a 6.3 average. The Aggies have six players pulling down an average of 4.0 boards or more.

    "They're a very good team," said Alford. "They are big. They are athletic again. They won in here last year and not a lot of people can do that or have done that.

    "It hasn't set well with us that we lost a non-conference game in here. We're playing pretty well. They've won four of five. They are playing pretty well. It should be a great matchup.

    "They have a post presence. That protects against a lot of (mistakes) in your defense by having that big guy in the middle."

    Bhullar plays only 14.8 minutes a game because the Aggies also get 12.6 minutes a game out of the 6-10 Dixon and because there are other Aggies who aren't as tall, but are very, very quick.

    The Aggies' game is fueled by defense and boards. They also shoot a high percentage because they attack the glass both on rebounds and in their dribble-drive offense.

    "We know this is a very difficult test, but it is one I think our guys are prepared for," said Alford.

    Said UNM's Greenwood: "They are a good group and there are bragging rights on the line. We weren't ready for it (Pit loss in 2011) and they hit us first. We regretted (losing) it and it hurt us throughout the season."

    The UNM/NMSU series is 113-95 in favor of New Mexico and the Lobos own a 70-37 edge in Albuquerque. Coach Alford is 8-2 vs. NMSU and has won eight of nine.