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NEW MEXICO -- It's been a long time since the BYU men's basketball team (20-1, 5-0 MWC) has had this much to play for. The Cougars, who have matched their best start in school history, became a top-10 team Monday, sliding into the No. 10 spot in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches poll.
With No. 1 Kentucky falling Tuesday night against South Carolina, the Cougars now own the longest active winning streak in the country, at 15 games, also the second-longest winning streak in BYU history. Because of all the respect the program has started to earn around the country, and the Cougars' undefeated record in Mountain West Conference play, they said they know they will get each opponent's best shot.
"Since we are ranked so high right now, we're going to have a target on our backs no matter who we're playing against," Jimmer Fredette, the MWC leader in scoring (20.5 ppg) told KSL Newsradio after Monday's practice.
The road doesn't get any easier for the Cougars, who barely squeezed by San Diego State Saturday 71-69. BYU completes what looks to be the toughest road trip of the season Wednesday night with a game against another Top 25 team, the New Mexico Lobos (18-3, 4-2 MWC). The Lobos were ranked as high as No. 12 in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches poll, before losing three of their next five games and dropping from the rankings.
New Mexico has found its way back into the rankings with a win streak of its own. The Lobos have won four straight since losing to UNLV in Albuquerque, climbing back to No. 23 in the AP Poll. With a resume that includes wins over PAC-10 leader California, Texas Tech, Texas A&M and Dayton, New Mexico could prove to be the Cougars' toughest road contest of the season.
Not to mention the venue in which the Cougars have to play. The Pit is a very intimidating arena; one in which players can feel like they are getting swallowed alive by the raucous crowd.
"They're very, very confident," said Fredette, whose 33 points against San Diego State should put to bed any questions about his health since his bout with mononucleosis. "We have to go in there and give our best effort and play extremely hard, and hopefully we can win."
New Mexico has a balanced team similar to San Diego State with four players scoring in double figures. Most of the Lobos' scoring comes from a talented starting five. 6-foot-7 guard Darington Hobson leads New Mexico in scoring with 15.3 points per game to go with 8.1 rebounds. Hobson started his college career at the College of Eastern Utah before bringing his talents to New Mexico, and is a MWC Player of the Year candidate as well as Newcomer of the Year award candidate.
Roman Martinez (13.9 ppg, 6.1 rpg), Dairese Gary (10.9 ppg, 3 rpg) and Phillip McDonald (11.1 ppg, 3 rpg) also score in double figures.
The Lobos handed BYU its worst loss of the season last year, defeating the Cougars 81-62. BYU Head Coach Dave Rose said a lack of patience for his team had a lot to do with that loss.
Rose also said that was a different team at a different time, and he hopes this team responds better this time around.
"Hopefully we can get started in this game like we did in San Diego," Rose said. "I have a feeling this game will go back and forth, with runs by both teams, so we'll just have to see." Tipoff is scheduled for 8 p.m. and the game will be broadcast live on KSL Newsradio 102.7FM/1160AM and online at KSL.com beginning with the pregame show at 7 p.m.