Air Force (11-16) at (21) New Mexico (23-5)
GAME NOTES: The only meeting of the season between a couple of Mountain West Conference teams takes place tonight in The Pit, as the 21st-ranked New Mexico Lobos play host to the Air Force Falcons.
The Lobos, who might easily be looking forward to their regular-season finale versus 10th-ranked San Diego State on Saturday in what could easily determine the league champion, are tied with the Aztecs atop the MWC standings with a record of 14-2. New Mexico is currently enjoying a five-game win streak and has declared victory in 11 of the last 12 decisions overall, thanks to a 72-58 romp over Nevada on the road this past Sunday afternoon.
During the recent run of strong play for New Mexico, which is headed by first- year head coach Craig Neal, the only setback was by a single point to Boise State (71-70) on the road the second week of February.
As for the Falcons, they've found it difficult to compete against the rest of the MWC after putting together a decent non-conference record. In fact, the Academy has won only twice since Jan. 16, and one of those triumphs came against lowly San Jose State. Most recently Air Force was destroyed by UNLV at home over the weekend, 93-67.
With a conference mark of 5-11, the Falcons are ahead of only SJSU in the standings with the conference tournament right around the corner.
New Mexico leads the all-time series by a comfortable 53-19 margin, but back on March 9, 2013 the Falcons stunned the Aztecs in an 89-88 final.
Air Force fell behind immediately against the Runnin' Rebels and never recovered, never challenged much at all really, as the team bowed by 26 points at home. Tre' Coggins was again the leading scorer for the program with 14 points, but he shot just 5-of-16 from the floor in the meeting. Max Yon and Zach Kocur pitched in with 11 points apiece and Kamryn Williams 10 and seven rebounds in the setback.
Coggins, who was suspended for a few games this season, has started all but two of the 24 games in which he has appeared, leading to his 16.3 ppg stemming from an impressive 40 percent shooting beyond the arc. Yon checks in with another 13.3 ppg and leads the squad with 73 assists, but still Air Force is producing a mediocre 66.9 ppg and giving up 69.3 ppg over the course of 27 games total.
It was a tale of two halves for the Lobos during their matchup with Nevada on the road. In the first period, New Mexico trailed by as many as 14 points, shooting only 1-of-9 behind the 3-point line, but after the break the visitors turned it around with 57.1 percent accuracy from the floor in order to generate the lopsided victory. Once again it was Cameron Bairstow who led the charge with his 22 points, followed by Alex Kirk on the inside as well with 10 points, 11 rebounds and four blocked shots. Kendall Williams produced a double-double of his own with 11 points and 10 assists.
Bairstow has become the beast of the MWC, toying with the competition as he has his way in the paint on a regular basis. The big man accounts for 20.3 ppg and is second on the glass with 7.2 rpg, all while stepping up with 43 blocked shots. Lending a hand in the paint is Kirk (13.8 ppg) with his 8.7 rpg and 75 rejections, but clearly there has been a changing of the guard as far as a leader for the Lobos is concerned, even while Williams is posting 16.9 ppg and 142 total assists in 28 starts.
Air Force might be a better rebounding team this season, compared to past years, but there is little chance the Falcons can settle into the paint and handle both Kirk and Bairstow, not to mention a slashing Williams who can create out on the perimeter just as easily.
GAME NOTES: The only meeting of the season between a couple of Mountain West
Conference teams takes place tonight in The Pit, as the 21st-ranked New Mexico
Lobos play host to the Air Force Falcons.Fact Stats
FACTS & STATS: Site: The Pit/Bob King Court (15,411) -- Albuquerque, New
Mexico. Television: ESPN3.com. Home Record: Air Force 7-9, UNM 12-2. Away
Record: Air Force 3-7, UNM 8-2. Neutral Record: Air Force 1-0, UNM 3-1.
Conference Record: Air Force 5-11, UNM 14-2. Series Record: New Mexico leads,
53-19.Game Date and Time
Wednesday, March 5, 9 p.m. (ET)Predicted Outcome
New Mexico 78, Air Force 61