SAN DIEGO — If getting their first conference win of the season last week against San Jose State in the Pit got the monkey off the backs of the UNM Lobos, King Kong climbed back on Monday night.
The San Diego State Aztecs used size, physicality, experience and elite defense to thoroughly beat the UNM Lobos on Monday, 72-47, in front of an announced Viejas Arena crowd of 10,951.
“That’s just a really good look at what a championship-caliber team really looks like — the physicality, the discipline, the chemistry,” said Lobos guard K.J. Jenkins, the 6-2 guard who finished with team highs in points (16) and rebounds (9).
“That’s where we’re trying to get to.”
His head coach had a similar, matter-of-fact sentiment after Monday’s loss.
“We’re not ready to beat a team like that right now,” said Richard Pitino.
For the Lobos, who fall to 8-14 overall and 1-8 in Mountain West play, the 46 points scored on Monday was a season low — more than 30 points below the 77.2 per-game scoring average they carried into the game.
And for the Aztecs (12-5, 4-1 MWC), who have alternated blowout wins with embarrassing losses over the past five games, it was back to the type of defensive dominance that the program has hung its hat on for years.
The team that played the Lobos close down to the wire in the 2017 Mountain West championship game on Monday night became the first school in 42 years to beat UNM by 20 or more points in three consecutive games.
It was an empty the bench sort of game for the Aztecs, who had 14 players get into the game, and 10 of them scored at least 2 points.
The tone was set early.
Five days after not recording an offensive rebound in an 18-point loss at Utah State, the Aztecs’ 6-10 defensive star, Nathan Mensah, grabbed the team’s first offensive board 19 seconds into Monday’s game, putting it back for an easy layup.
And when he wasn’t doing that, he was defending one-on-one the Lobos’ 6-0 starting point guard Jaelen House or 6-2 shooting guard Jamal Mashburn Jr. at the top of the key with enough athleticism to stay in front of each, preventing drives in the lane much of the game. Even when a Lobo guard could penetrate, it wasn’t as though there was any capable scorer to dump it off to near the rim.
“If we’re not getting dribble penetration, and they’re so good at guarding the ball, we’re going to struggle a little bit,” Pitino said. “They’re an elite level defense, for sure. … As the roster develops, we need to be able to throw the ball inside. It’s just too hard to play like that.”
San Diego State does rank 4th out of 358 Division I teams in defensive efficiency according to KenPom.com and looked every bit of it Monday.
UNM at one point was held without a field goal for a 10-minute, 18-second stretch that spanned both halves.
San Diego State never trailed, scored 30 points in the paint to UNM’s 16 and had a 25-1 advantage in fast break points. The Lobos were held to 30.8% shooting and had 20 turnovers. And three days after a season-high 21 assists in their first MWC win of the season, the Lobos had just eight on 52 field-goal attempts.
BOX SCORE: San Diego State 72, New Mexico 47
UP NEXT: UNM at Air Force, 6 p.m., CBSSN, 770 AM/96.3 FM
READ MORE: For more notes, stats, video, analysis and other odds & ends from Monday’s game in San Diego, read Emptying the Notebook.