UNM Basketball: Lobos stumble in second half, fall to Aztecs 82-59

The Lobos and No. 4 Aztecs entered the halftime break last night separated by just two points after a hot start of shooting 45% from the field and 36% from behind the arc. As a team, the Lobos were hustling for rebounds and loose balls and played some of their best defense this season against one of the nation’s top teams.

That was the first half.

The second half was a mirror image of the 28-point shellacking the Aztecs delivered at the Pit. San Diego State made 52% of their shots from the floor and stifled the Lobos with their lockdown defense.

Corey Manigault was ejected from the game with just over five minutes to go with the game well out of reach. The packed house at Viejas was loud, and the Lobos collective effort when the game was out of reach lacked, save Vante Hendrix, who continued to play hard down the stretch, scoring a career-best 20 points.

With the Aztecs favored by 15 points and their sights set on a No.1 seed in the NCAA Tournament in March, the outcome of the game was not a surprise.

“I told them in the locker room, now we have to get greedy,” said head coach Brian Dutcher after the game.

”We’ve got to try to win them all. It won’t be easy. Four really hard games to go, but now that we have the title, we have to have another goal, and that goal has to be to have a perfect season. That will be the next step to try to finish with a perfect season.”

Junior forward Matt Mitchell led the Aztecs with 22 points and 12 rebounds. Mitchell surpassed 1000 points in his career at SDSU, and in the process passed Kawhi Leonard on the team’s all-time scoring list.

“I actually didn’t know that. Wow,” Mitchell said after the game. “I’m happy I was able to do that. I feel that’s good company to be in.”

San Diego State clinched the outright regular-season title with the victory and is a lock for a No. 1 seed if they take care of business in their remaining four regular-season games and win the Mountain West Tourney.

The Lobos, on the other hand, will likely only make the NCAA tourney if they can win the MWC tourney in Vegas next month. Their 17-9 record and 91 RPI is not exactly enticing to the selection committee.

UNM continues conference play this Saturday afternoon at 4:00 MT at DreamStyle Arena against UNLV. The Rebels beat the Lobos 99-78 when the two teams faced off at the Thomas and Mack Center back in January.