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This week in the WAC: First-place New Mexico State faces former conference foe Denver for the first time since 2013

Plus, UT Rio Grande Valley tries to stay hot after a momentum-halting loss, Grand Canyon hosts a tough Portland State team tonight and the WAC Player of the Week.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Clemson vs New Mexico State
The New Mexico State Aggies are in first place in the WAC for now, but a tough stretch of games awaits them in December. | EDITOR’S NOTE: At Swish Appeal, we prefer to feature the players we cover as the lead art for our articles, since they are the ones who make the game come alive in any given season. Unfortunately, these photos are not always available, leaving us to make do with what is available. Sometimes, all that is available is a photo of a mascot, an arena, cheerleaders or a men’s team — evidence of pervasive problems in women’s sports coverage that we at Swish Appeal would prefer to see addressed.
Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

The last time the New Mexico State Aggies and the Denver Pioneers faced off, the Western Athletic Conference looked a lot different than it does now.

Although the conference featured ten teams then to the current nine, only two from that ten-team lineup remain (thanks to the WAC’s infamous shift away from football): New Mexico State and Seattle. And one of the absent teams, appearing in the WAC for just that 2012-13 season, was Denver, who travels to face New Mexico State tonight for the first time since that season.

The Aggies and the Pioneers do have a history prior to that season, having also played together in the Sun Belt conference from 2000-2005, and Denver owns the 7-5 series edge. But more than five years later, everything is different — including the teams’ head coaches, both of whom (as well as their coaching staffs) are in their second seasons. On the calendar, their history is recent, but for everyone on the floor, it couldn’t be further away.

But in the end, no matter what conference these teams are in, fans can expect a high-level contest featuring two evenly-matched teams that would do well to find each other in the non-conference season more often.

Catching up with the Aggies

New Mexico State finished last season 18-13, falling to Seattle in the semifinal game of the WAC tournament before losing in the first round of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament to Wyoming. They have a chance to equal their best start since 2016-17 with a win tonight, a season that led to an NCAA Tournament bid.

The Aggies are currently in first place in the WAC by winning percentage, followed closely by UT Rio Grande Valley, although NMSU has played the fewest games of any team in the conference so far. Today’s meeting with Denver will be just their second game in December, while the Vaqueros of UTRGV — who are also the only other WAC team with a record above .500 — have already played three. But the Aggies have six more games scheduled this month after tonight, including a two-game turn at the Florida International University Holiday Tournament next weekend.

This season, NMSU is led by junior guard Gia Pack’s WAC-leading 17.5 points per game. Senior guard Brooke Salas and junior forward Adenike Aderinto are also averaging double figures, with Salas leading the team in rebounding at 8.7 per game.

Aggies in action

New Mexico State Aggies (4-2) vs. Denver Pioneers (7-2)

When: Tuesday, Dec. 11 at 8 p.m. ET

Where: Pan American Center, Las Cruces, NM

How to watch: Aggievision

Notes: The seven losses that the Aggies have suffered to the Pioneers were in their first four and three most recent meetings (five in the Sun Belt, two in the WAC), with the Aggies putting together a five-game winning streak in between. After five seasons apart and two entirely new-look squads, the slate might as well be wiped clean, though NMSU will still want to snap that three-game losing streak.

Elsewhere in the WAC:

  • In other WAC action today, Grand Canyon hosts Portland State (8 p.m. ET, WAC Digital Network). The Antelopes are 2-5 on the season and face an undefeated Vikings team that has already knocked off one WAC opponent this season in Seattle.
  • California Baptist guard Georgia Dale was named WAC Player of the Week, as her average of 13 points per game last week led the Lancers to wins over UC Riverside and Fresno Pacific. Dale’s 2.4 assist-to-turnover ratio is the best in the WAC, and she comes in at third in steals at 2.2 per game.
  • Second-place UT Rio Grande Valley saw their four-game winning streak come to an end on Saturday with a loss to Texas Southern. But redshirt senior Madison Northcutt had herself a game, notching her fourth double-double of the season and converting 11 free throws, good for ninth in free throws made in a single game in program history. The Vaqueros host No. 12 Texas next Thursday (8 p.m. ET, WAC Digital Network).
  • The WAC has as many teams above .500 as they do at .000, with Seattle and Chicago State still seeking their first wins. Neither has an easy next game, with the Redhawks hosting Cal Poly and the Cougars making Big Ten trips to Wisconsin and Northwestern in the coming week.