Jan. 6, 2012
RUSTON, La. - After 15 non-conference games to begin the season, Louisiana Tech opens Western Athletic Conference play against preseason favorite New Mexico State Saturday night at 7 p.m. in the Thomas Assembly Center.
The Aggies hold a 12-3 series lead and have won the last four meetings. In the TAC, both programs have split six games with NMSU coming away with a 50-49 win last season.
"I'm excited to see some of these other good programs and experience the conference for the first time," said head coach Michael White. "I'm more excited about such a quality opponent coming into our building Saturday and the renewed focus of our guys."
The Bulldogs enter the contest with an 8-7 record after going 6-3 in December with five of the wins coming by three points or less. Tech is a perfect 6-0 at home this year.
Freshman guard Raheem Appleby leads Tech in scoring at 11.7 points per game while senior guard Trevor Gaskins and sophomore guard Cordarius Johnson are averaging 10.7 and 10.1 points a contest, respectively.
On the glass, three Bulldogs are grabbing over four rebounds a game led by Gaskins with 4.7 per contest. He is followed by Johnson at 4.4 per game and freshman guard Kenneth Smith at 4.2 a contest.
Smith also paces the squad in assists at 4.1 per game, which is the best among all freshmen in the WAC and fifth overall.
Freshman forward Michale Kyser is one of the top shot blockers in the nation, currently tied for 34th, with 2.4 blocks per contest. He is 11 blocks shy of tying Eldon Bowman for 10th on the program's career blocks list and 17 away from breaking Paul Millsap's freshman school record.
As a team, the Bulldogs are looking to improve offensively as they are seventh in the conference in scoring offense (67.6 ppg) and field goal percentage (40.6 percent) and eighth in free throw percentage (61.1 percent).
Tech will be looking to get to the foul line more often in conference play as the Bulldogs have attempted just three more free throws (244) than their opponents have made (241) this season.
"At the halfway point of the season if we evaluate ourselves, we have to find ways to get to the foul line more often and find ways to send the other team to the foul line significantly less," White said. "We also have to generate some type of interior presence, improve our assist-to-turnover ratio and shoot a higher [field goal] percentage. Most of our concerns are offensive concerns."
New Mexico State enters Saturday's game with a 10-5 record having won five of its last six.
"We are definitely stepping into a tougher part of our schedule," said White. "New Mexico State has had some quality wins including a win over New Mexico on the road."
Along with the victory in Albuquerque against New Mexico (62-53), the Aggies have also defeated CSU Bakersfield (73-72) and Northern Colorado (89-75) on the road while falling at Southern Miss (74-66) and at UTEP (73-69).
Wendell McKines leads NMSU in scoring (17.9 ppg) and rebounding (10.5) and is the only WAC player averaging a double-double. Hernst Laroche is adding 11.3 points per game and paces the Aggies in assists (3.9 apg) and steals (1.5 spg).
NMSU will be without their second leading scorer Christian Kabongo (14.6 ppg) who decided to transfer earlier this week.
As a team, the Aggies lead the WAC in scoring (78.0 ppg), scoring margin (+8.0), rebounding (40.0 rpg), rebounding margin (+7.1) and offensive rebounding (14.7 off. rpg).
The game can be heard on KXKZ 107.5 FM, KJVC 92.7 FM and KTKC 92.9 FM with the "Voice of the Bulldogs" Dave Nitz and Jack Thigpen calling the action with the pregame show beginning at 6:30 p.m. LA Tech All-Access subscribers can watch a live video stream of the action through LATechSports.com, the official home of Louisiana Tech Athletics.
Live stats will be available through the men's basketball GameDay Central page which can be viewed through the link at the top of the page. Twitter users can follow sports information director Phillip Pongratz at www.twitter.com/LATechPPongratz.