By Kevin Wilson: Freedom New Mexico
Saturday will easily be one of the most challenging days in the history of Eastern New Mexico University basketball.
The Greyhounds and Zias have games against opponents that are a combined 25-2, as the men travel to Provo, Utah to face Division I Brigham Young and the women host Fort Lewis, ranked seventh in Division II, in a 2 p.m. affair at Greyhound Arena.
The Cougars (13-1) are not ranked in the Associated Press Top 25, but they are in the “others receiving votes” category ahead of Oklahoma State and upstart Wichita State.
“After beating Arizona by 30 (99-69 Monday in Tuscon),” Greyhounds coach Andrew Helton said, “that won’t be the case by Monday (when the new poll comes out).”
Unless, of course, the Division II Hounds pull off an upset akin to the program’s 81-76 win at the University of New Mexico 17 years ago — when Helton was finishing up his bachelor’s degree at Miami (Ohio).
“It’s like any game,” Helton said. “The first goal is to win the game. You want to compete, battle, and guard them.”
Saturday’s game against BYU is what is known in college sports as a “guarantee game.” Such games involve teams far apart in size; the smaller team is guaranteed an appearance fee, and the home team is virtually guaranteed a win against a smaller school.
Helton declined to discuss the amount exchanged by the schools.
“It’s not a crazy figure,” Helton said, “but it helps the budget.”
Before the Hounds even step on the court in Provo, their female counterparts will have faced a tough test as well with the Skyhawks (12-1), whose last nine wins are all by double figures.
“There’s a reason they’re a top 10 team,” Zias coach Linden Weese said. “They’re got four senior starters. Those kids have played together a bunch. They can all shoot it. Everybody on the floor can score. They’re a good, seasoned basketball team.”
The Skyhawks are coming off a 111-18 victory over winless Northern New Mexico. Fort Lewis led 66-5 at the half and had six players in double figures.
Eastern is the second game in a three-game set away from Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference play for the Skyhawks. Fort Lewis plays at West Texas A&M on Sunday.
Since a 1-6 start, the Zias have won four of their last five, the only loss a 68-67 setback on a buzzer-beating shot against Texas A&M-Commerce. Weese said a win would be huge for the Zias, and the key is to not get impatient against any of the Skyhawks’ various defenses.
“They do such a good job on their fullcourt press,” Weese said. “They get people to try to rush against their press. You’ve got to break the fullcourt zone so you can attack their set.”
The Greyhounds have been idle since a 75-58 loss to Commerce on Dec. 19. Helton said after the game the biggest problem was not being able to hit shots down the stretch.
“More than anything, we’re just trying to get better, especially offensively,” said Helton, adding he’s still trying to figure out the source of struggles. “I’ve been very happy with the way we’ve guarded for the first 10 games. We haven’t played offensively as well as we could have.”
ENMU (5-5) at Brigham Young (13-1)
When: 7 p.m. today at the Marriott Center, Provo, Utah.
Radio: KSEL-FM 105.9, which will receive a feed from the Cougars’ flagship station, KSL-AM in Salt Lake City.
Coaches: ENMU, Andrew Helton, first season; BYU, Dave Rose, fifth season, 110-35.
Last outing: The Hounds have been idle since a 75-58 home loss to Lone Star Conference North Division foe Texas A&M-Commerce on Dec. 19. The Cougars won 99-69 at Arizona on Monday, getting school records of nine 3-pointers and 49 points from 6-2 junior G Jimmer Fredette.
Last meeting: The teams have never faced each other.
BYU players to watch: Fredette; senior G/F Jonathan Tavermari, 6-6, 215; junior G Jackson Emery, 6-3, 185.
Notes: Rose reached 100 wins in 134 games, the fastest for any coach in Cougars history. … Helton said junior F Tyler Jefferson, who leads the Greyhounds at 14.1 points per game, has responded a lot better since the holiday break and his knee doesn’t seem to be bothering him as much. … Senior G Jimmie Marshall is sixth in the LSC in assists (4.5 apg) and third in steals (2.6 spg).
Fort Lewis (12-1) ENMU (5-7)
When: 2 p.m. today at Greyhound Arena.
Radio: KSEL-FM 105.9.
Coaches: Fort Lewis, Mark Kellogg, fifth season, 68-31; ENMU, Linden Weese, fourth year, 33-61.
Last outings: The Zias defeated Texas Woman’s 69-68 on Dec. 21 on a 3-pointer by Cat Clay with six seconds remaining. One day later, the Skyhawks throttled winless Northern New Mexico 111-18.
Last meeting: 2007, Fort Lewis won 78-64. ENMU leads the all-time series 12-4.
Fort Lewis players to watch: Sr. P Allison Rosel, 5-11; Sr. G Katie Mackey, 5-10; Sr. F