As big as Thursday night's game at Nevada was supposed to be, a win would have sent the Aggies into Logan with a chance to tie for first place with a win versus the northern Aggies, tonight's game is even bigger for New Mexico State. In fact, you could almost call this a "must-win" game for the Aggies. You don't often hear us call a game a "must-win" but this is about as close to a must-win as you can get and here's why.
Tonight's game has serious implications for the Aggies as it pertains to their postseason hopes. Forget about regular season title hopes for just a second, everyone knows that if the Aggies want to return to the NCAA tournament this season they are going to have to do it by winning the WAC tournament in March. Here's why tonight's game is so important.
A loss by the Aggies tonight drops their conference record to 4-3. Now that may not seem like a big deal with nine conference games left to play but it's significant because with an Idaho win over Boise State (in Moscow) and a Nevada win over Louisiana Tech (in Reno) tonight it would drop the Aggies into fifth place in the league standings (both Nevada and BSU currently own the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Aggies). Fifth place is a bad place to be. The fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth place teams all have to win four games in four days in Las Vegas in order to be crowned WAC tournament champions thanks to a new tournament format that gives the third and fourth place teams a first round bye and the first and second place teams a double-bye into the semifinal round.
A win by the Aggies keeps them just a game behind the UtAgs in the loss column with USU still having to make the trip to Las Cruces at the very end of the season. It also keeps them ahead of Nevada in the loss column and depending on the outcome of the Boise State/Idaho tilt tonight it could keep them ahead of Boise State in the loss column as well with both Idaho and Boise State making the journey to Las Cruces next week.
So hopefully now you understand just how important tonight's game is. It's huge. Winning four games in four days is a daunting task that the Aggies no doubt want to avoid having to try to accomplish.
As far as tonight's game goes the Aggies have to play better on defense tonight than they did on Thursday night. Plain and simple. New Mexico State gave up too many layups and dunks (Coach Menzies counted at least 10). The Aggies also have to get a big contribution from Gordo Castillo tonight. He was conspicuously absent in the box score on Thursday night after scoring 17 points in a blowout win over San Jose State last Saturday night. The Aggies need him to step up his scoring.
Hernst Laroche has to stay out of foul trouble. He'll be going up against another strong point guard tonight in USU's Brockeith Pane who nearly recorded a triple-double in the UtAgs win over Louisiana Tech with 11 points, nine assists and seven rebounds. The Aggie big men will also have their hands full with Tai Wesley and Nate Bendall. No doubt Wesley (and for sure the Utah State students) have not forgotten the broken nose suffered by Wesley in the WAC tournament championship game. Troy Gillenwater and Hamidu Rahman can expect to receive more than their fare share of hostility tonight from the Utah State fans as a result of that broken nose last March.
The UtAgs come into the game riding a record 20-game regular season conference winning streak. The last time these two teams met, the UtAgs were riding a 17-game winning streak. New Mexico State ended that streak and earned themselves a dance card. Hopefully tonight the Aggies can end another lengthy win Utah State win streak. New Mexico State is also one of the only WAC teams to win in Logan (Nevada being the other), however, that was in 2006. The results have not favored New Mexico State since then and as we mentioned yesterday the last two trips have resulted in 19 and 18 point losses respectively.
If the Aggies want to avoid hearing this at the end of the game tonight they will need to play much much better than they did on Thursday night.
Tonight's game is scheduled for a 9:00 p.m. (MT) tip-off and can be seen on ESPNU with streaming video available via ESPN3.com. The game can be heard on the radio on the Aggie Sports Network with streaming audio available via Aggie Access (subscription required).
The Aggie women are also back in action tonight as they host Utah State. The WAC race on the women's side is very interesting with five teams, including New Mexico State and Utah State, tied for third place at 2-2.
Utah State's Ashlee Brown and Devyn Christensen are both averaging 17.3 points per game in conference play. Brown is also averaging 10.8 rebounds per game. It should be an interesting battle in the post between her and Tabytha Wampler. Wampler has been relatively quiet in conference play averaging 11.75 points and 6.25 rebounds per game. She scored 17 points in the conference opener against Hawai'i but has not scored more than 12 in the three games since and had just six points and four rebounds in the last game against Fresno State and was just 1-of-4 from the field.
Tonight's game can be heard on KSNM AM 570 with streaming video and audio available via Aggie Access (subscription required).
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