Reno, NV (Sports Network) - The two teams at different ends of the Mountain West Conference standings get together at the Lawlor Events Center in Reno on Wednesday night, as the Nevada Wolf Pack entertains 12th-ranked New Mexico.
The Lobos certainly want to finish off the regular season strong, but at this point they might be taking their foot off the gas having already won the MWC title for the fourth time in the last five years thanks to a 53-42 victory against Wyoming on Saturday. New Mexico has won all but two of 14 league bouts, claiming five straight decisions since the most recent setback to UNLV on the road a little less than a month ago.
As for the Wolf Pack, they've been moving in the opposite direction in recent weeks, falling in five consecutive games and eight of the last nine. Over the weekend Nevada suffered an 80-63 loss to in-state rival UNLV, which means the Pack has not only been swept by the Runnin' Rebels this season, the squad is also all alone in last place in the conference standings with a record of 3-11.
With Nevada being new to the MWC this year, coming over from the Western Athletic Conference along with Fresno State, this is just the second all-time meeting between these squads, with New Mexico having posted a 75-62 victory in the first clash back in early February in The Pit.
The Lobos caught a break during their meeting with Wyoming as the leading scorer for the Cowboys, Leonard Washington, made it through just 10 minutes before taking a seat on the bench, scoreless, with a back injury. With Washington out of the way, the front line for UNM had more room to move as Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow posted 15 and 13 points, respectively, and also brought down nine rebounds apiece for the hosts. The Lobos shot only 35.7 percent from the floor and 2-of-14 beyond the arc, but their aggressive play lent itself to a 21-3 scoring margin at the free-throw line.
Defense has been a huge part of UNM's success against league foes, holding those opponents to only 58.6 ppg on 37.7 percent shooting from the field. Carrying the offense has been the job of Kirk and Kendall Williams who are both producing 12.8 ppg, the latter also being responsible for 64 assists in his 13 MWC appearances. Along with Tony Snell (11.7 ppg), Williams combines to account for 41 of the squad's 83 3-point baskets so it is important for the pair to find open space out on the perimeter.
Making a total of just nine field goals in the first half and missing all seven chances beyond the arc in the period, Nevada fell behind the Runnin' Rebels immediately and never recovered on Saturday. Malik Story tried to give the hosts a fighting chance as he delivered a game-high 24 points, shooting 10-of-21 from the field, but he made just two of his seven tries from the perimeter. Deonte Burton added 18 points, but his 6-of-18 shooting was far too disastrous to keep the Pack competitive.
The only two players to have started every game for the Wolf Pack and playing about 33 minutes per contest, Story (16.4 ppg) and Burton (15.8 ppg) have to be burned out by now. Sure, they have their strong games here and there, but for the most part the pressure on them to carry the entire team is becoming too great and has had a negative result. The pair combines for almost half of the unit's 67.2 ppg at this point and that's just not healthy for a couple of guys who desperately need support.