With Kendall Williams leading the way, New Mexico is on the verge of its best start in 45 seasons.
The No. 16 Lobos try to open 13-0 for just the second time in school history Saturday as they host Nate Wolters and South Dakota State.New Mexico, which won its first 17 games in 1967-68, also began 12-0 three seasons ago but lost its 13th game at Oral Roberts. The Lobos pulled out a tough road game Wednesday, winning 68-63 at New Mexico State to complete a home-and-home sweep."I can't speak enough of our team. We just find ways to do it," coach Steve Alford said. "You come into somebody's building and you hold them to 63 points and (38.2) percent shooting, you are doing a lot of good things. We have a tough group, a solid group that understands winning. They just perform."After rolling his right ankle early in Wednesday's game and sitting out the next five minutes, Williams returned and finished with a career best-tying 24 points. The junior leads New Mexico with 14.3 points per game and ranks first in the Mountain West in averaging 5.1 assists."He came back and was just terrific," Alford said. "Best player on the floor. Kendall Williams is extremely talented. He had a big game for us both offensively and defensively. He was a great leader. He is playing at a very, very high level."Williams now tries to help New Mexico extend its home winning streak over non-conference foes to 15. The Lobos, who've outscored opponents by an average of 19.2 points during that run, are 89-4 in such games dating to 2003.While the home crowd figures to give New Mexico an edge Saturday, the Jackrabbits (9-4) aren't strangers to playing in The Pit. No. 14 seed South Dakota State fell 68-60 to third-seeded Baylor in last season's NCAA tournament in Albuquerque.The Jackrabbits had won eight of nine before getting blown out 76-49 at Belmont on Wednesday. The game was tied at 37 with just over 12 minutes to go before the Bruins, who held a 43-30 rebounding edge, pulled away behind an 18-0 run. South Dakota State shot 27.0 percent -- its lowest mark since moving to Division I in 2004-05."You could see that we didn't have great energy, we were down on the glass, we had our hands on every loose ball but couldn't get to them, and that ties into the energy factor," coach Scott Nagy told the school's official website after his team fell to 1-4 in true road games.Wolters is averaging a team-high 19.3 points and a Summit League-best 5.7 assists, but he posted just 13 and three, respectively, Wednesday. The conference's preseason player of the year has gone 24 of 76 (31.6 percent) from the field over his last five games -- a significant drop from the 54.9 percent mark he posted over his first six.Despite those struggles, Alford knows slowing down Wolters won't be easy."He's a very good player. He uses the ball screen well and is crafty with the dribble," Alford said. "He has the ball in his hands an awful lot."Wolters will be looking to come out strong in his first matchup against a ranked team this season. He was forced to sit out an 88-64 loss at then-No. 14 Minnesota on Dec. 4 due to a sprained right ankle.