New Mexico is poised to earn a share of a second straight Mountain West Conference crown in its final home game of the season.
The No. 14 Lobos have won 13 straight conference games on their own court heading into Saturday's matchup with Wyoming, which has dropped its last nine visits to Albuquerque.New Mexico (24-4, 11-2) has won four straight and owns a two-game lead on Colorado State, which visits Boise State later Saturday. Each team has three contests left."We can win a championship on senior day," coach Steve Alford said. "Nothing would be more fitting for the two winningest Lobos, Jamal Fenton and Chad Adams, in front of 15,000-plus to win a championship at home. That would be the most ideal thing and hopefully we can finish it on Saturday."Alford was thrilled with Wednesday's 70-60 victory over San Diego State. Alex Kirk scored a season-high 25 points and Cameron Bairstow added 16 as the Lobos avenged an ugly 55-34 loss Jan. 26 to the Aztecs, who were eliminated from contention after being the preseason favorites."What tastes good is that they are eliminated from the conference race," Alford said. "That is the taste that we want because we want a championship. We weren't picked to win it."New Mexico has won four straight over Wyoming (18-10, 4-10), with Bairstow scoring a season-high 17 points in a 63-59 road victory Jan. 30.The Cowboys allow an average of 57.1 points to lead the conference but are yielding 72.0 during a three-game slide that continued with Tuesday's 72-66 defeat at Air Force. Opponents are shooting 55.7 percent against Wyoming in this stretch, and the Falcons finished at 51.0."It was one of the most embarrassing defensive performances I've been a part of in 40 years as a head coach or an assistant," coach Larry Shyatt said. "I thought that the game was won and the game was lost. I don't want to point fingers, that would be the wrong thing to do, so I am going to compliment their attack."Top scorer Leonard Washington had 15 points and 13 rebounds in his return after missing the first two games of this slide with an ankle injury. Washington has four straight double-doubles.Reserve Nathan Sobey was a bright spot as he made all seven shots -- six 3-pointers -- for a career-high 22 points."(Sobey) played terrific on the offensive end tonight, but he equaled that on the other end," the coach told Wyoming's official website. "He played tenacious on the defensive end and put his body in harm's way."The Cowboys have dropped six straight road MWC games, and last won at New Mexico in 2003.Wyoming may be able to exploit New Mexico's poor 3-point defense. The Lobos are allowing opponents to shoot 34.6 percent from beyond the arc for the conference's second-worst mark, and the Cowboys made 12 of 22 attempts in the first meeting.The Cowboys are in seventh place with slim leads over Nevada and Fresno State as they try to avoid the conference tournament's play-in game.