New Mexico State was pushed to the limit, but the Aggies responded in a big way to move to the brink of securing the Western Athletic Conference regular season championship by winning a pair of games last week to remain undefeated in conference play.
The Aggies opened the week with a 72-64 win over Seattle and defeated Utah Valley 84-82 two days later to increase their record to 12-0 in conference action. NMSU has now won a total of 15 straight games.
California Baptist, which sits in second place in the WAC standings, went out of conference last week in its lone game and crushed Westcliff 107-45. The Lancers are 7-3 in conference play. Grand Canyon joins CBU as the only other team still in the hunt to overtake New Mexico State after sweeping past Kansas City 71-66 in overtime and downing Chicago State 71-47 to improve to 7-4 in conference action.
Jabari Rice was the hero for New Mexico State as the Aggies remained undefeated in the WAC by winning a pair of games last week.
Rice, who missed a last-second shot earlier this season that would have lifted the Aggies to a win over arch-rival New Mexico, found a different result against Utah Valley as he banked in a 3-pointer with 0.6 seconds left to secure an 84-82 win over the Wolverines.
The win improved NMSU to 12-0 in conference play and gave coach Chris Jans his 100th victory as a coach in NCAA Division 1.
The Aggies led 40-34 at intermission and pushed their lead to 54-44 when Ivan Aurrecoechea put back an offensive rebound with 14:04 left in the game.
Utah Valley would respond by going on a 7-2 spurt to close to within 61-57.
The Aggies would not be outdone.
Rice scored five points to fuel an 8-4 run by the Aggies to put his team in front 69-61 with 8:02 remaining in the contest. It also proved to be the start of a dry spell as New Mexico State went scoreless over the next 3:24 as the Wolverines fashioned a 12-0 run to take the lead 73-69 with 4:09 remaining. Casdon Jardine connected on a pair of 3-pointers to highlight that scoring spree.
Johnny McCants ended NMSU’s scoreless stretch by nailing a pair of free throws and Rice connected on a 3-pointer to put the Aggies back in front 76-73.
Isaiah White’s two free throws and a 3-pointer from TJ Washington with 6.5 seconds left seemed to have broken the backs of the Aggies as the Wolverines led 82-81 before Rice emerged the hero.
Rice, who scored 12 points in the first half, finished with a career-high 29 points and was one of four Aggies in double figures in scoring. Aurrecoechea finished with 18 points, 10 of those coming in the final 20 minutes, while Evan Gilyard and McCants finished with 13 and 11 points, respectively.
The Wolverines also had four players reach double figures in scoring with White finishing with a team-high 21 points and Casdon finishing with 14 points of his own. Brandon Averette scored 13 and Washington finished the game with 11 points.
WAC Marquee Game of the Week
UT Rio Grande Valley at New Mexico State
When: Saturday, Feb. 22, 7 p.m.
Where: Pan American Center (12,572)
Whatever hopes UT Rio Grande Valley has of climbing the ladder in the WAC standings and securing the top seed in the upcoming conference tournament begins with one, albeit, big step, by defeating current league-leader New Mexico State on Saturday.
The Vaqueros, who have a five-game conference win streak intact, needs to defeat the Aggies to keep their title hopes alive. A loss would end any chance of earning the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament, which will be played March 12-14 in Las Vegas.
UT RIO GRANDE VALLEY VAQUEROS: UTRGV opens this week’s play with a non-conference game against UT Permian Basin before tangling with New Mexico State.
And it appears the Vaqueros have the ability to knock off the Aggies after pushing them to the limit in a 67-62 loss Jan. 25 in Las Cruces.
Jordan Jackson (6-3, Gr., G) is the leading scorer for UTRGV with his 15.4 points per game. He is second on the team with 49 assists and 40 steals and chips in with a respectable 2.9 rebounds per game. Lesley Varner (6-7, Sr., F) is not far behind with 14.0 points per game and leads the way in rebounding (6.1 rpg) for the Vaqueros, while ranking third in assists (43) and steals (33).
Javon Levi (5-11, Jr., G) is the third member of the UTRGV double-digit scoring fraternity. He is averaging 10.9 points per game and is adding 3.3 rebounds per outing. His 161 assists and 44 steals lead the team by wide margins in both departments.
NEW MEXICO STATE AGGIES: Balance has been a trademark of the Aggies all season as NMSU has a trio of players who are shooting well from the floor. That accuracy is evident by having all three scoring in double figures heading into this week’s clash with UT Rio Grande Valley.
Trevelin Queen, Jabari Rice and Ivan Aurrecoecha have combined for 343 field goals on 671 attempts (.511) so far this season. That trio is also accounting for 54 percent of the Aggies’ 71.3 points per game average this season.
Queen (6-6, Sr. G) leads the way in scoring with 13.5 points per game. He is shooting 46 percent (.463) from the floor this season and is grabbing 5.4 rebounds per contest, which is tied for third on the team. He also leads the Aggies with 56 assists and 39 steals on the year.
Rice (6-4, RS, So., G) is right behind Queen in scoring with his 13.2 points per game and is shooting at a 49 percent (112-227) clip. He is fourth on the team with five rebounds each time out and ranks second in assists (46) and third with 22 steals.
Aurrecoecha, meanwhile, is the top shooter from the floor at 59 percent (120-204) and comes into Saturday’s game with an 11.7 scoring average and ranking second on the squad in rebounding (5.4 rpg).
Johnny McCants (6-7, RS, Jr., F) leads the Aggies in rebounding with 6.1 boards per contest and is not far off double-digit scoring with 9.1 points per contest.
|New Mexico State||12-0||21-6||85|
|UT Rio Grande Valley||7-5||11-14||217|
Last Week’s Results
Bakersfield 64, Chicago State 54
California Baptist 107, Westcliff 45
Grand Canyon 71, Kansas City 66 (OT)
New Mexico State 72, Seattle 64
UT Rio Grande Valley 80, Utah Valley 72
Grand Canyon 71, Chicago State 47
Kansas City 59, Bakersfield 53
New Mexico State 84, Utah Valley 82
UT Rio Grande Valley 79, Seattle 72
This Week’s Games
UT Permian Basin at UT Rio Grande Valley, 11 a.m., WDN
California Baptist at Kansas City, 6 p.m., WDN
Bakersfield at Utah Valley, 7 p.m., WDN
Grand Canyon at Seattle, 8 p.m., ESPN+
California Baptist at Chicago State, 11 a.m., WDN
Grand Canyon at Utah Valley, 2 p.m., WDN
UT Rio Grande Valley at New Mexico State, 7 p.m., WDN Bakersfield at Seattle, 8 p.m. WDN
A native of Bismarck, N.D., Ray is a graduate of North Dakota State University where he began studying athletic training and served as a student trainer for several Bison teams including swimming, wrestling and baseball and was a trainer at the 1979 NCAA national track and field championship meet at the University of Illinois. Ray later worked in the sports information office at NDSU. Following his graduation from NDSU he spent five years in the sports information office at Missouri Western State University and one year in the sports information at Georgia Tech. He has nearly 40 years of writing experience as a sports editor at several newspapers and has received numerous awards for his writing over the years. A noted sports historian, Ray is currently an assistant editor at Amateur Wrestling News.