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Basketball: NMSU men embark on pivotal trip

The second half of league play begins with the New Mexico State Aggie men’s most critical road trip.

Thursday night, the Aggies (18-4, 7-1, 64th in the NCAA’s NET rankings as of Wednesday) take on Cal State Bakersfield (15-7, 6-2, 180), the third-place team in the Western Athletic Conference behind NMSU and Grand Canyon (14-7, 7-1, 77).

Bakersfield already has lost a home game vs. Grand Canyon and closes the regular season with three on the road. So the Roadrunners need this one tonight or else turn from contenders to pretenders.

Then the Aggies stop in Phoenix for the return match of the memorable game in Las Cruces, in which NMSU needed the heave by Johnny McCants from nearly two-thirds of the court away to go in at the final buzzer and deliver a 77-75 win.

“All three of us are at the top of the standings and these are going to be huge games with a lot of repercussions for conference championships,” Aggies coach Chris Jans said after his team’s most recent outing, an 83-39 thumping of overmatched Chicago State on Saturday. “We aren’t going to win or lose one this week, but we are going to either take a step in the right direction to, or we are going to fall back.”

Should New Mexico State win twice this weekend, it gets five of its last seven games at home, and all of those are against lesser-rated opponents.

WOMEN: The Aggies (15-6, 7-1) already have built a two-game cushion over the field, with four teams tied at 5-3 in league play behind them. CSU Bakersfield (9-12 overall) is today’s 6 p.m. opponent at the Pan Am Center.