Wednesday, January 2, 2008
BASKETBALL Ags Begin WAC Quest
By Randy Harrison
Journal Staff Writer
The road hasn't been kind this season to New Mexico State. But since the Aggies must take it to begin league play, Moscow is as friendly a place as any.
Moscow, Idaho, specifically, is where the Aggies (6-9) meet Idaho (3-8) tonight in the Western Athletic Conference opener.
League play is the basket in which the Aggies must put all their postseason eggs. New Mexico State's NCAA Tournament hope is winning the WAC tournament and the automatic bid. But winning the regular season league title would provide at least some other opportunities.
Not that the Vandals have been easy marks for the Aggies, but New Mexico State has won on Idaho's court in its first two WAC seasons. In both years, it was the Aggies' first league road game. Last year New Mexico State shot only 38 percent and had to come from behind in the second half to pull out an ugly 61-56 victory against the eventual last-place, 4-27 team.
"We were down by 12, like, almost the whole game," said senior guard Fred Peete. "We clawed our way back."
Peete scored 20 points on Monday's 86-58 victory over Alcorn State, which he called a "tuneup game" for tonight and beyond. The Aggies arrive on a one-game win streak, a two-game feel-good streak (including a five-point loss at Louisville), and playing more the style first-year coach Marvin Menzies wants.
Basically, the changes are the lack of 6-foot-10 center Hatila Passos, suspended for academic reasons, and the addition of 6-4 freshman wing Jahmar Young, who made his first start Monday.
The Aggies were effective with their scrambling pressure full court and with their trapping in half court. Young, long and active, is ideal for that style of play. He had 12 points and two steals Monday and plays with what Menzies calls a "relaxed intuition."
Of course Young is inexperienced, having played only his third game, and needs to see game tape to improve, said the coach. "But what makes him bad sometimes is what makes him good too."
And then in Passos' absence, a longer 6-11 Martin Iti can still disrupt shots in the lane from opponents who manage to elude the trapping pressure.
"We're still optimistic we'll get Hatila back, so we're not changing too much," said Menzies. But he added that the pressure, the smaller lineup with Young, and more drive-and-dish opportunities with players like Peete and Young making the plays are in the immediate future.
Peete, who had struggled offensively so far this season, has played more comfortably of late, including Monday when the defense transitioned into easier offense for himself, at least.
"Basically this game showed we had chemistry, one through five, and there was no slack off the bench," said Peete.
The Vandals, meanwhile, haven't played since falling 76-65 on Dec. 22 at Arizona State. In that contest, Idaho hit 13 3-pointers but was outscored by 12 at the free-throw line. The Vandals, for that matter, are outscored by 8.8 points from the line on average.
In his second season, Idaho coach George Pfeifer has brought in five transfers to try to shore up the program. But only one, 6-3 guard Jordan Brooks (10.6 ppg), is averaging double figures in scoring.
Idaho's best player, however, is 6-10 Darin Nagle, who had a 13-point, 10-rebound, six-block game in the last meeting between these two teams in Moscow.
"He's a big-time player," said Menzies. "He can shoot the ball, can rebound, and is a good athlete especially for his size."