At least San Diego State knows that the fans at The Pit won’t rush the court if it comes up short Wednesday night.
That’s because, unlike in the Aztecs other road losses in the conference (save for losses at UNLV and Colorado state), the team will be the genuine underdog Wednesday when they play No. 14 New Mexico in Albuquerque.
The Lobos aren’t Wyoming or Air Force. And Arena Auditorium in Laramie or Clune Arena in Colorado Springs are not as daunting as The Pit.
And because SDSU gave New Mexico one of its two blemishes in the conference—an embarrassing 55-34 loss at Viejas Arena in January—the Lobos have more than just winning the conference title in mind.
“It left a really bad taste in everybody's mouth” New Mexico senior Chad Adams told GoLobos.com. “We're not going to give up anything in here—not easy anyway.”
San Diego State (20-7, 8-5 in the Mountain West) knows what’s coming and knows what to expect from the Lobos.
The SDSU understands that despite being the favorites, New Mexico will come onto its home floor with something to prove. Much of that comes from that 55-34 loss, where the Lobos had just 19 points in the first half, scored just 15 in the second and was held to 25 percent shooting—still all season lows for the Mountain West’s only ranked team heading into this week’s slate of games.
The Aztecs are going to expect much better Wednesday night.
“(New Mexico) will have bulletin board material that will have '34 points' plastered all over it,” San Diego State head coach Steve Fisher told the media earlier this week. “They shot the ball poorly. Some of that was our doing, some of that was they missed shots. I'm sure they'll score more than 34 points, but hopefully we'll have one more than they do when it all ends.”
Junior guard Jamaal Franklin was a little more blunt in what he expects from New Mexico (23-4, 10-2), especially since SDSU has won in its last two trips to The Pit, something most in Albuquerque see as unprecedented.
“We know they want to hit us in our mouth because we beat them here,” he said after his team’s win over Nevada last week. “We have to match their intensity.”
Adding to the Lobos’ motivation factor is their place in the conference pecking order and what it means for March Madness. New Mexico currently holds a two-game lead at the top of the Mountain West standings with four games to play. Two wins in its final two home games could mean that the Lobos wrap up the conference championship on their home floor by the end of the weekend.
Add to that the motivation or playing for a higher seed in the NCAA Tournament (New Mexico is currently a No. 3 seed in ESPN’s Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology), the Lobos have all to play for Wednesday even without the revenge factor.
"We don't want to share it," Lobos head coach Steve Alford told GoLobos.com. "This group has earned the right to be the conference champs. They have to finish it now."
SDSU also has much on the line. The Aztecs are not a lock for an NCAA Tournament at-large bid. Losses in what has turned out to be the nation’s second-best conference have damaged San Diego State’s resume, which—at the beginning of conference play—looked almost bullet proof.
A win Wednesday against the No. 14 team in the country on the road might be that last piece of resume building SDSU needs to lock up a spot in the Big Dance.
"I think we're all fighting for our tournament hopes,” Fisher said. “We're fighting to win that next game and get that resume victory or two before the season is over. We're trying to get a better seed in the conference tournament. So it's a stage where every team has something significant to say this is why this game is our most important game.”