Aggies look to clinch outright WAC regular season title vs. UTRGV

NMSU

LAS CRUCES, NM (KTSM) – With its sights set on capturing an outright Western Athletic Conference (WAC) regular season title for the third-consecutive season, the rv/—NM State men’s basketball team closes out its longest home stand of the season Saturday night by playing host to Texas combatant UTRGV at 7:00 p.m. inside the Pan Am Center. 
• A whole host of TV stations and online streams are set to carry the 24th all-time showdown between the Aggies and Vaqueros and they include FOX Sports Arizona-Plus, FOX Sports Oklahoma, FOX Sports San Diego, FOX Sports Prime Ticket (LA), FOX College Sports Pacific, Comcast New Mexico and ‘The CW’ Las Cruces/El Paso. Internet-based streams of the game can also be accessed via the FOX Sports GO app as well as the WAC Digital Network. One thing all of these broadcasts have in common is that the formidable duo of Adam Young and Rus Bradburd are set to handle play-by-play and analysis responsibilities.
• As has been the case for four decades, Jack Nixon is set to handle play-by-play and analysis duties for the Aggies’ tilt over the radio airwaves. Locally, Nixon’s narration can be heard on 99.5 FM KXPZ in Las Cruces. 
• Listeners outside of the Las Cruces area can access Nixon’s call on the Aggie Sports Network’s affiliate stations which include 103.5 FM KNMZ (Alamogordo), 1150 AM KNMM (Albuquerque, 1240 AM KAMQ (Carlsbad), 1380 AM KHEY (El Paso), 1230 AM, 94.9 FM KYVA (Gallup) and 107.1 FM KMDS (Las Vegas). Fans not in any of those areas can also find his broadcast via the TuneIn app which is available nationwide.

THE SERIES | NM STATE vs. UTRGV
Overall vs. UTRGV | 20-3 (.870)
In Las Cruces, N.M. | 10-1 (.909)
At the Pan Am Center | 10-1 (.909)
In Edinburg, Texas | 8-2 (.800)
At the UTRGV Fieldhouse | 8-2 (.800)
At neutral sites | 2-0 (1.000)
Last meeting | NM State 67, at UTRGV 62 | 1.25.20
Last NMSU win | 1.25.20 | 67-62
Last NMSU home win | 2.23.19 | 88-79
Last NMSU road win | 1.25.20 | 67-62
Last UTRGV win | 2.11.02 | 100-86
Last UTRGV home win | 2.11.02 | 100-86
Last UTRGV road win | 12.18.80 | 77-73
Largest margin of victory (NMSU) | 39 | 83-44 on 3.5.16
Largest margin of defeat (NMSU) | 23 | 120-97 on 12.17.77
Current Streak | NMSU won 17
Last five games | 5-0 (1.000)
Last five home games | 5-0 (1.000)
Last five away games | 5-0 (1.000)
Last 10 games | 10-0 (1.000)
Last 10 home games | 9-1 (.900)
Last 10 away games | 8-2 (.800)
NM State points | average | 1,907 | 82.9
UTRGV points | average | 1,665 | 72.4
NMSU scoring margin | +10.5
Jans vs. UTRGV | 6-0 (1.000)
At the Pan Am Center | 2-0 (1.000)
At the UTRGV Fieldhouse | 3-0 (1.000)
Jans vs. Hill | 6-0 (1.000)
Hill vs. NM State | 0-8 (.000)
Jans on 2.22 | 0-0 (.000)
NMSU all-time on 2.22 | 13-9 (.591)

WENSDAY ON SATURDAY NIGHT
• Saturday night’s showdown with the Vaqueros will serve as the Hall of Fame game as four former Aggie greats will be back in Las Cruces to be inducted into the US Bank/NM State Athletics Hall of Fame. 
• Included in the four-person class is Andrea Kabwasa (women’s basketball), Darrell Martin (men’s track & field), Wendell McKines (men’s basketball) and Chris Williams (football).
• McKines, who earned the moniker Mr. Wensday during his playing days in Las Cruces, is one of two players in program history who registered 1,000 points and 1,000
rebounds in a career. The 2012 WAC Tournament MVP also secured All-WAC First Team honors in 2012. 

POLL POSITION
• In Monday’s edition of the AP Top 25 Poll, the Aggies received a pair of votes, putting them 43rd in the land of the 45 teams either ranked or receiving votes. 
• It’s the first time this season that NM State secured votes in the weekly poll.
• Last season, NM State appeared in the receiving votes section of the AP Top 25 poll on four occasions – February 25, March 4, March 11 and March 18.
• This marks the Aggies’ 15th appearance in the receiving votes section of the AP Top 25 poll under third-year head coach Chris Jans. In Jans’ inaugural season (2017-18) in Las Cruces, the Aggies piled up 66 votes in the February 12 edition of the poll – the most by the team in the 21st century. 

LET’S TALK TITLES
• Already ensured at least a share of its third-consecutive WAC regular season crown, a win for the NM State men’s basketball team Saturday night over the Vaqueros would sew up an outright league crown for the Aggies. 
• NM State has now won three consecutive WAC regular season crowns and five of the last six. 
• In all, the Aggies have won six WAC regular season titles since joining the league in 2005-06. All of NM State’s WAC regular season crowns have been won since 2007-08. 
• Since the program was initiated in 1905, NM State has won a total of 19 regular season conference championships. 
• Prior to this season, Presley Askew was the only NM State head coach who had won three consecutive regular season titles. He did so from 1959-61 by laying claim to three-straight Border Conference crowns. 
• By clinching a share of the league title earlier this week, current NM State head coach Chris Jans has won three consecutive WAC regular season crowns.
• That puts Jans in rarified air as he is one of only seven current NCAA Division I head men’s basketball coaches who have won league titles in each of their first three seasons at an institution. He’s joined on that list by Nathan Davis (Bucknell, 2016-18), Mark Gottfried (Murray State, 1996-98), Anthony Grant (VCU, 2007-09), Kevin Keatts (UNC Wilmington, 2015-17), Steve Prohm (Murray State, 2012-14) and Brad Underwood (SFA, 2014-16). 

THE CENTURY MARK
• Last Saturday’s 84-82 win over Utah Valley was a significant one for NM State head coach Chris Jans as it was his 100th as an NCAA Division I head coach. 
• In his fourth season as an NCAA Division I head coach, it took Jans just 129 games to secure win number 100. That makes him the 27th-fastest bench boss in the history of NCAA Division I men’s basketball to get to the 100-win mark. 

THREE IN A ROW
• At this juncture in the season, NM State is one of eight NCAA Division I men’s basketball teams who have either won three consecutive conference regular season titles or are on the path to do so. 
• NM State joins Gonzaga (WCC), Montana (Big Sky), Northern Kentucky (Horizon League), Harvard (Ivy League), Loyola-Chicago (Missouri Valley Conference), Murray State (Ohio Valley Conference) and South Dakota State (Summit League) as the teams around college basketball who have won or are gunning for a third-straight regular season conference crown. 

FIVE OUT OF SIX
• The number of NCAA Division I men’s basketball programs who have won regular season titles in five of the last six seasons is quite small, but NM State is among that exclusive group.
• With at least a share of the 2019-20 WAC regular season title, the Aggies are one of three teams who have captured five or more regular season titles in the last six seasons. Along with the Aggies, the group also includes Bucknell (Patriot League) and Gonzaga (WCC) currently. Three other programs – Kansas (Big 12), South Dakota State (Summit League) and Villanova (Big East) have a change to join that exclusive club as well with the regular season winding down in the coming weeks. 

SCOUTING UTRGV | ROSTER | SCHEDULE | STATISTICS
• Aside from the Aggies, the Vaqueros have been the hottest team in the WAC as of late as they enter Saturday night’s primetime showdown on a six-game winning streak – their longest unbeaten run in 12 years. Each of UTRGV’s two road wins this season have come during its current six-game winning streak. 
• Absent from UTRGV’s first matchup with the Aggies this season, junior guard Javon Levi will be back in action when the Vaqueros matchup up with NM State inside the Pan Am Center. Possession court vision that’s unrivaled on the NCAA Division I men’s basketball scene this year, Levi leads the nation with 8.0 assists per game while his assist total of 168 is the land’s 12th-best. 
• Also the primary figure in the Vaqueros’ defensive scheme, Levi averages a WAC-leading 2.29 steals per game. That number ranks 15th nationally and has helped UTRGV rise to the top ten in the land in a number of defensive categories including turnover margin (sixth, 5.0) and turnovers forced per game (eighth, 17.77). 
• Though Jordan Jackson leads the Vaqueros in scoring at a clip of 15.5 points per game, it has been Lesley Varner II (14.4 ppg) who has been the team’s primary offensive threat as of late. In four of the last five games Varner II has scored exactly 23 points and Monday he was named the WAC Men’s Basketball Player of the Week.

LAST TIME OUT | NM STATE 84, UTAH VALLEY 82 | FEB. 15, 2020
• In danger of seeing their 14-game winning streak come to an end, the Aggies turned to Jabari Rice who finished off a 29-point performance by banking in a game-winning three pointer with 0.6 seconds left to lift his team to an 84-82 win over Utah Valley. 
• Rice’s 29 points were both a career-high for the Houston, Texas, product and the most points by an Aggie in 2019-20.
• Thanks to the heroics of Rice, head coach Chris Jans was able to pick up his 100th career win as an NCAA Division I head coach. 
• Ivan Aurrecoechea added 18 while Evan Gilyard II put in 13 more on 5-of-6 shooting to help NM State continue its reign as the WAC’s lone team without a league setback. 
• Both NM State and Utah Valley shot 57.7-percent (30-of-52) from the field but the Aggies held an edge from three-point range. A 10-of-20 (50-percent) night from long range allowed NM State to outlast the Wolverines. 
• The Aggies moved to 4-0 this season in WAC games decided by five or fewer points. 

LAST TIME OUT vs. UTRGV | JAN. 25, 2020
• In their first game without leading scorer Trevelin Queen, the Aggies fell behind by six points in the first half but recovered thanks in part to a team-high 19 points from Ivan Aurrecoechea to secure a 67-62 WAC victory at UTRGV. 
• The Aggies’ shooting numbers were sublime in the Lone Star State as NM State put in 55.6-percent (25-of-45) of their shots which helped offset 17 turnovers. 
• Another factor in NM State’s favor was its passing as the Aggies finished with 20 assists on their 25 field goals made. Five players finished with three or more helpers in the win including Jabari Rice who dished out a game-high four. 
• A slow start hampered the Aggies as the Vaqueros started the game on an 8-2 run. Johnny McCants – who finished with 12 in the win – netted NM State’s first seven points. 
• NM State took the lead for good when Rice connected on a three-pointer – one of his two on the night – with 9:13 remaining in the opening frame. That triple was one of two the sophomore hit in succession to power a 6-0 surge by the visiting squad. 
• A three-point play courtesy of Aurrecoechea staked NM State to a 65-55 lead with 3:17 to go, but the Vaqueros made it a game thanks to Jordan Jackson and Lesley Varner II. That duo answered the Spaniard’s three-point play with a 7-0 run to trim NM State’s lead down to 65-62 with 32 seconds left. 
• Fortunately, Aurrecoechea sealed the deal from the free throw line. The senior hit a pair of big-time freebies with 24 ticks to go which locked up the Aggies’ victory. 

NO SOPHOMORE SLUMP
• Something that second-year players across the nation hope to dodge, the sophomore slump has not been noticeable in Jabari Rice’s game this season. 
• After averaging just 3.4 points last season as a freshman, Rice is putting in 13.2 points per game this season to become the Aggies’ second-leading scorer. 
• Just a handful of players in the nation have increased their scoring load by 9.5 or more points per game from their freshman year to their sophomore year and Rice is among that group. 
Bryce Hamilton | UNLV | 4.3 to 15.6 | +10.3
Joe Bryant, Jr. | Norfolk State | 2.4 to 12.3 | +9.9
Jabari Rice | NM State | 3.4 to 13.2 | +9.8
Tyler Stevenson | Southern Miss | 3.3 to 12.9 | +9.6

COMING UP NEXT
• Next week the Aggies will embark on their final pair of WAC road trips of the 2019-20 regular season. That two-game stretch starts Thursday night in Phoenix, Ariz., when NM State clashes with league rival Grand Canyon inside the GCU Arena at 7:00 p.m. 

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