Plenty was on the line this weekend as the New Mexico State Aggies and Utah Valley Wolverines met in El Paso, TX. Both squads were looking for wins to take with them on their return trips home, and both were satisfied.
The series yielded results both programs are eerily familiar with this season. But given the grip Grand Canyon currently holds on the conference at 13-4 (7-1 in the WAC), splits aren’t going to be the answer. And UTRGV’s current place atop the conference standings, while being undefeated, just shows the craziness of 2020-21. UTRGV has only played two games against a WAC opponent over the last two months. There is plenty of uncertainty conference wide at the moment.
So a series split over the weekend isn’t necessarily season ending news for either program. Each side was certainly looking for a sweep to finish the regular season before both pack their bags for Sin City.
GAME ONE –UTAH VALLEY HOLDS OFF AGGIES, TAKES FIRST W
The Aggies showed fight in spurts on Friday, but shot the ball horribly from the field all night (38.1%).
Also 6-11 Wolverine big man, Fardaws Aimaq was the leading assist man, dishing out a game-high five assists to go along with his four turnovers. That and the fact that the leading scorer from New Mexico State was C.J. Roberts with 13-points (on 4-12 shooting) perfectly describes the overall efficiency of the game.
And although Mark Madsen’s side wasn’t exactly perfect, they got the job done with several counter runs at key moments to keep the Aggies guessing. The squad also adjusted perfectly to their record-setting rebounding machine Aimaq. The nation’s leading rebounder had an off night in the scoring column (6-points, 1-2 FG). The slack was picked up by 6-10 ACC grad transfer Evan Cole, who contributed 15 points and 7 rebounds on the night. He joined the two other members of the Wolverine’s usual three-headed attack in Jamison Overton (18-points) and Trey Woodbury (15-points) to a 69-66 win on Friday night.
COLE WORLD!! 🌎
— UVU Men’s Basketball (@UVUmbb) February 20, 2021
HOT AND COLD STARTS CONTINUE TO HURT AGGIES
The Aggies had opportunities to battle back. But couldn’t ultimately best Mark Madsen’s squad and followed a very familiar path into Saturday night.
“We’re sick and tired of feeling like this,” New Mexico State head coach Chris Jans said. “I know I am. I’m assuming the guys are too. We’ve been down this road too many times.”
Though the ongoing game two bounce back pattern isn’t a pleasant one for head coach Jans this season, it’s at least something to be grateful for. I mean just look at Rio Grande rival New Mexico who is getting swept weekly in the Mountain West.
GAME TWO – NEW MEXICO STATE BOUNCES BACK, AS USUAL
Saturday’s 67-60 win wasn’t exactly a comfortable one. The contest was tied at 60 apiece with 1:51 left to go in the game to make things interesting. The Aggies shooting stroke ran cold in the second half, only knocking down 7-25 field goal attempts after heading into the half up 30-24. The Wolverines suffered from an equally horrid shooting performance in the second half as well. So what made the difference in this 7-point New Mexico State victory? The Aggies defense down the stretch and capitalizing at the charity stripe. New Mexico State forced four turnovers on four straight possessions. And closed the game out with a series of made free throws in the closing minutes, going 7-8 to win the game.
Chris Jans’ squad was on attack mode all night and got to the line more (21-25 made FTs) than UVU who only attempted 13 free throws in the contest.
Key defensive possessions were also key for the Aggie victory. As only one player reached double figures for Utah Valley in game-two (Overton with 17-points). And although the nation’s leading rebounder (per game) Aimaq averaged 16.0 RPG in the series. He had one made field goal and 2-points in Saturday’s contest.
You can also attribute the win towards the New Mexico State backcourt of redshirt junior Jabari Rice and senior Evan Gilyard II. Both of whom combined for 36 of the teams 67 overall points on Saturday. Both shooting a combined 11-23 from the floor and 9-11 from the stripe in the process.
10:38 2H | Bari is cooking tonight🔥🔥
— NM State MBB (@NMStateMBB) February 21, 2021
With the split, the Wolverines move to 8-9 (6-3 in the WAC), which is good enough for third in the conference. New Mexico State, meanwhile, are now 6-6 (3-5 in the WAC) on the season and currently sitting in 6th place behind Seattle.
Both squads gear up for their Friday/Saturday conference series next week. And as always these are must-win matchups for the pair.
For the Wolverines, Friday is a huge game in how the conference standings ultimately play out. Utah Valley is currently right behind a second place Grand Canyon squad who have arguably been the best WAC team all season.
Ahead of them in first is a very formidable UTRGV squad who hasn’t played a conference game since early January. But, the Vaqueros are currently in first place having not suffered a loss in conference play just yet. This puts them atop the conference standings, no matter how odd this all feels. Two wins for UVU this weekend will surely put the WAC standings back in order. And Utah Valley could find itself in second place. Two losses to a tough but untested Vaqueros squad will really just leave things as is and reaffirm UTRGV’s spot in the top-two.
The Aggies on the other hand keep things in the Lone Star State for Friday’s matchup, as they head to Stephenville, TX as guest of Tarleton State. This is the first ever meeting of the two programs. Already shaping up as a battle of bottom-half squads, a sweep by New Mexico State would certainly propel them up the standings. Yet, another split would leave them stagnant in the middle of the conference.
Lastly, I just have to mention this friendly jarring between Twitter admins on Saturday.
— UVU Men’s Basketball (@UVUmbb) February 21, 2021
— NM State MBB (@NMStateMBB) February 21, 2021
Or maybe I am reading into that too much, still thanks for reading.