As we head into the final week of the first round of league play in the Mountain West, one loss separates first-place New Mexico from four others (San Diego State, Colorado State, UNLV and Air Force). Had the Lobos won at SDSU on Saturday, I was relatively convinced they had the muscle to go the distance, despite facing a daunting second half in which they play five of their final eight on the road.
Of course, that was before New Mexico was limited to 34 points, the second-lowest total in league history, and went 11-of-44 from the floor (25.0 percent) against the Aztecs, thus reducing to rubble my faulty, if not foolish forecast, forgetting that this is, after all, the Mountain West. The Lobos (17-3, 4-1) still hold a spot in both polls (No. 20 AP, No. 22 USA Today/Coaches), though there are likely easier ways to sharpen your shooting skills than facing Wyoming's dogged defense, which the Lobos must do Wednesday night in Laramie.
Game of the week: No. 22/20 San Diego State at Air Force, Saturday. Lest one forget (and rest assured the Aztecs have not), the Falcons, who sported a league record of 2-7 at the time, won 58-56 against a then-No. 13/15 SDSU squad that was without the services of its leading scorer/rebounder in Jamaal Franklin, who was nursing a sprained ankle. Air Force, which is 8-1 at home this season, has discovered that daring to be different can pay dividends. Contrary to customary form, the Falcons have turned up the tempo, pushing rather than patiently probing. Air Force has scored 90 or more points in two of its last three games and pulled off a rare double-double when it beat Wyoming in Laramie on Saturday for the second straight year. The Aztecs (16-4, 4-2) have had more than their share of struggles at Clune Arena in recent seasons, going 3-6 since 2004.
Individual matchup to watch: While Wyoming has battled shooting woes of late, 6-7 senior forward Leonard Washington is averaging team highs of 14.5 points, 9.1 rebounds and 2.1 blocks to rank among the top nine in the MW in each category. Washington, who is tied for second in the league this season with eight double-doubles, will square off against the current leader in that category on Saturday when the Cowboys face Colorado State in Fort Collins. Rams center Colton Iverson, who ranks 10th in the league in scoring (14.3 ppg) and second in rebounding (9.5 rpg), has posted nine double-doubles thus far. Washington ranks ninth in the MW in scoring and fourth in rebounding.
Must win: With three consecutive road games looming (Colorado State, Cal State Bakersfield, Boise State), Wyoming can ill afford a third straight loss when it hosts New Mexico on Wednesday. The Cowboys, who rank eighth in the MW in scoring offense (63.3 ppg), shot just 33 percent (17-of-51) from the field and 17 percent (5-of-28) beyond the arc in Saturday's loss to Air Force. This after shooting 41 percent (20-of-48) from the field and 3-of-18 (16.7 percent) from three-point range in a 62-50 loss at UNLV last Thursday. Wyoming has scored 50 or fewer points in three league games.
Big week: After suffering its second-worst loss of the season (75-59) at Nevada on Saturday, Boise State has the opportunity to show why it's one of just three teams in the nation (Kansas, Oregon) with multiple road wins over ranked opponents or face a serious uphill climb in the second half of the league schedule. It will be far from easy for the Broncos (14-5, 2-3), who must first deal with a Colorado State team on Wednesday that has won 24 straight home games before returning Taco Bell Arena on Saturday to face UNLV. Boise State split its season series with the Rams and Rebels last year, with both victories coming at home.
Stat of note: Six MW teams are undefeated this season when holding a halftime lead (San Diego State 16-0; UNLV 15-0; Colorado State 13-0; New Mexico 12-0; Wyoming 10-0; Air Force 8-0).