New Mexico has to navigate three more games before a potential title-deciding showdown in the Mountain West Conference.
Fresh off a significant upset, the 25th-ranked Lobos will try to sail through the first of those contests Tuesday night against struggling Utah State.New Mexico (21-5, 12-2) moved into a tie for the Mountain West lead with a 58-44 victory over then-No. 6 San Diego State on Saturday. Cameron Bairstow led the way with 26 points on 11-of-18 shooting and nine rebounds."It's not like this was going to win the conference or anything, it's one which puts us even with San Diego State but we've still got a number of games to go and we need to win them," Bairstow said.The 44 points were the fewest allowed this season by New Mexico, which returned to the AP Top 25 for the first time since Nov. 18 on Monday."It's huge for confidence. Our defense is the best it's been all year. You want to peak at the right time and that's what we're doing right now," guard Hugh Greenwood said. "The defense is playing really well. We're moving the ball. We're scoring. It's all coming together but we're not peaking too early."The Lobos will face the Aztecs again in the regular-season finale March 8 in San Diego. They'll play two of their three games before that matchup at home and will try to send Utah State (15-12, 5-10) to a fourth consecutive defeat in the first of those contests.The Aggies lost 79-76 to visiting Fresno State on Saturday after rallying from a 16-point deficit to take a brief lead early in the second half. Utah State shot 50.8 percent after failing to crack 34.0 in its previous two games and leading scorer Jarred Shaw (14.6 ppg) had a team-best 18 points on 9-of-14 shooting.Fresno State shot 43.9 percent but was 11 of 23 from 3-point range (47.8 percent)."We have got to find some way to get better on defense," Shaw said. "Our one-on-one defense wasn't there tonight."Utah State has dropped eight of 11 and is 1-6 on the road in conference play, including a 60-45 loss to San Diego State in its most recent game there last Tuesday. New Mexico, meanwhile, has won 14 of 16 overall and a season-high five straight at home.The Lobos topped the Aggies 78-65 in Logan, Utah, on Jan. 28 in the first matchup between the schools since Utah State's 117-83 win in Albuquerque on Dec. 29, 1979. Bairstow had a team-best 22 points and six rebounds.The Aggies enter this game having lost nine in a row to Top 25 opponents since a 79-77 win over No. 10 Nevada on March 9, 2007. They did, however, also take then-No. 7 San Diego State to overtime before losing 74-69 on Jan. 25.Ending that drought against ranked teams would give coach Stew Morrill his 600th career win. Morrill is 3-10 all-time against New Mexico with the other 12 matchups occurring while he was at Colorado State from 1991-98.