Utah coach Jim Boylen occasionally says some outrageous things, and this seemed like a doozy.
"New Mexico is playing as well as anyone in the country right now."
In the country?
"In the country," he said. "I really think so."
If, in fact, the Lobos are playing as well as the likes of Memphis, North Carolina and UCLA, then the Utes are in for a heap of trouble today when the two teams meet at noon in the Huntsman Center.
It's true the Lobos are playing very well, having won five straight games by an average of 25.6 points per game to improve to 21-6 on the season and 8-4 in Mountain West Conference play.
During that stretch, senior J.R. Giddens has put up some eye-popping numbers, averaging 23.2 points on 67.2 percent shooting from the field and 64.3 percent from 3-point range as well as 8.8 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 2.8 steals per game.
"He's a tough matchup for us," said Boylen. "He's got length, experience and athleticism."
Boylen also pointed out that the Lobos are the best 3-point shooting team in the MWC going against his team, which has been ranked No. 1 in 3-point defense and is now second, allowing 32.1 percent.
In MWC play, the Lobos are hitting 44.9 percent from 3-point range, including three players who are shooting 50 percent or better reserves Jamaal Smith (15-of-28) and Chad Toppert (35-of-70) along with Roman Martinez (14-of-28).
Boylen said New Mexico's inside players Martinez, Toppert and center Daniel Faris collectively hurt the Utes in the Lobos' overtime win in Albuquerque last month, and the Utes must be wary again of the whole team.
"They're playing on all cylinders," Boylen said. "They have a good inside-outside game, have terrific perimeter shooting and are versatile offensively."
Freshman Jonathan Wills, who started the first six games of the season, has started the last five, each of which was a victory. He took over the spot of the 6-7 Toppert, who, like Utah's Johnnie Bryant, is a shooting threat off the bench.
He joins another freshman, Dairese Gary in the backcourt, to go along with Giddens, Faris and Martinez. Besides Toppert and Smith off the bench, the Lobos have another former starter in Darren Prentice.
Utah is coming off a tough loss to league-leading BYU in Provo, where the Utes shot a season-low 37.3 percent from the field.
Boylen felt the Utes were getting good shots, but that they missed a lot of short ones, particularly Luke Nevill, who was just 5-of-14.
Utah will go with the same lineup as it has most of the season, although expect Luka Drca to see more time at point guard if Tyler Kepkay continues to struggle.
Kepkay went scoreless with no assists in 19 minutes at BYU after getting four points and one assist against San Diego State.Following today's game, the Utes head out on the road for a pair of games next week at TCU on Wednesday and at Wyoming on Saturday.
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