Aggies will provide a solid test for Arizona Wildcatsby Anthony Gimino on Nov. 18, 2010, under Sports
The Arizona Wildcats basketball team has a game against Kansas looming on Nov. 27. Oklahoma will visit McKale Center next month. The Cats have a rematch against Jimmer Fredette and BYU in Salt Lake City.
Before Christmas, Arizona also will have played at Rice and North Carolina State.
“We’re playing a number of quality opponents,” said UA coach Sean Miller, “but New Mexico State doesn’t take a backseat to any of them.”
Well, a coach can be forgiven for a little hyperbole, but he made his point … and a coach in a league whose teams lost to Seattle U. and Rider on Wednesday night shouldn’t be overconfident.
The Aggies — who play at Arizona on Thursday night — aren’t quite the same team that won the WAC tournament and took Michigan State to the wire in the first round of last season’s NCAA Tournament, but here is what they are: The most athletic team in the WAC, a fearless 3-point shooting team, and one that likes to run and press.
“The faster the game, the more frenetic the transition game becomes, that is when they are at their best and their most comfortable,” Miller said.
The Aggies’ style makes sense: NMSU coach Marvin Menzies and his predecessor, Reggie Theus, each learned under Rick Pitino.
“They’re a talented team, and, to me, they’re a confident team,” Miller said.
“When you experience postseason success and you return several parts, those guys expect to win. They don’t have a hard time playing on the road. And that confidence makes them a consistent and very dangerous team.”
Lucky for Arizona, the Aggies aren’t as dangerous as they could have been.
Junior guard Jahmar Young declared for the draft (and was not taken) after an offseason arrest. Young would have been a strong candidate for WAC Player of the Year this season. And forward Wendell McKines, basically a double-double man in each of the past two seasons, is out because of a broken foot.
What the Aggies still have is 6-foot-11 junior center Hamidu Rahman, junior forward Troy Gillenwater and junior point guard Hernst Laroche.
Laroche has mostly been a set-up guy in the past two years because he had Gibson and Young as running mates. But Laroche (21 points in the season-opener vs. Louisiana) might now be tapping into his scoring potential.
Gillenwater, at 6-8 and 234 pounds, is an inside-outside threat and is the team’s best player. He has been a super sub for most of the past two seasons, and didn’t get academically eligible last year until early February, but he’s poised to be one of the WAC’s finest.
“Gillenwater is really unique in that he is a great 3-point shooter, is a scorer, can do more than shoot the 3, and yet he’s 6-foot-7, 6-foot-8,” Miller said. “And he’s not a thin guy.”
There is plenty of meat on this opponent, and Arizona will get a good test Thursday night. But there is no way the Wildcats, building back up in Miller’s second season, should lose to the Aggies in McKale Center.
As Miller said after Sunday’s season-opening victory over Idaho State:
“I talk a lot about the tradition of playing in McKale, having been on the other side of the fence. It’s not a fun place in the past to come and play. They are a great crowd and we have an incredible home court environment and we want to take advantage of it.”