Friday, February 20, 2015
OK, New Mexico is not as strong as usual. But playing them in their arena – whether they still call it the pit or WisePies – is always tough. Especially when they have their first sell-out crowd of the season. And the coach wears their cherry blazer.
So, that dominant 63-46 Aztec win Tuesday carried extra meaning. Now, heading into the last four games, all alone in first place, the Aztecs are well positioned to win the title outright. Not automatic, but it looks promising. Concentrate, win ‘em all, starting with Saturday’s game at San Jose State.
Led by the nation’s third-best defense, right now the Aztecs are 21-6 overall; 11-3 in the conference. To me, that’s pretty good. How many teams have more than 20 wins? Maybe 25. And it’s especially impressive because Zylan Cheatham never played a minute because of injuries; Malik Pope got a late start; and we had nagging injuries to Matt Shrigley and Aqeel Quinn.
We’ll soon see how the rest of the season goes; then the MW tournament; and the NCAA Tournament. However it goes, I chalk this up as another coaching success by Steve Fisher. What he has accomplished in building a solid Program (with a capital P) since he arrived here in 1999, inheriting one of the weakest, truly marks him as a Hall of Famer. Maybe the best measure of where the Aztecs stand is that during this successful season and in winning every game at home, I hear a guy near me loudly critical of every small mistake made. Odd, but a clue. Coach’s teams are so good, fans expect perfection.
JJ O’Brien, Aqeel Quinn and Malik Pope (photos by Ernie Anderson)