Monday, March 08, 1999

UK'S OPPONENT: NEW MEXICO ST.


Henson rebuilt Aggies quickly

BY CHRIS VARIAS
Enquirer contributor

        The University of Kentucky's first-round tournament opponent, No.14 seed New Mexico State, is sort of two teams in one.

        When Northeastern Illinois dropped its Division I program after the 1996-97 season, New Mexico State coach Lou Henson signed the school's five starters. Two of the five, William Keys and Brad Bestor, became starters for the Aggies, winners of the Big West Tournament.

        Henson has employed a three-guard offense, with Keys (13.1 ppg, 3.8 assists) at the point and Bestor (9.0 ppg) and Eric Channing (10 ppg) as dual shooting guards.

        The starting lineup is small in the front court, with no true center. The best player is power forward Charles Gosa, who averaged 14.9 ppg and 8.1 rebounds. Aaron Brodt (5.1 ppg, 2.9 rebounds) starts at thethe other frontcourt spot. Henson may adjust to a more traditional lineup against Kentucky for defensive purposes.

        It's been a fruitful year for Henson, now in his second go-around as coach of his alma mater. When he left Illinois three years ago, it seemed to be retirement for the Lou-Do. He settled in Las Cruces, home of the Aggies, and was out of basketball. Then, last year he replaced Neil McCarthy and coached New Mexico State to an 18-12 record.

        This season has been a step up for the Aggies (23-9). They have a 21-point win over New Mexico and a 14-point win against Wisconsin in Madison. A Feb. 25 victory against Utah State gave Henson his 700 win, making him the 13th collegiate head coach to do so.

        In the regular season the Aggies tied Boise State for first place in the Eastern Division of the Big West. In conference tournament play they beat Pacific in the first round and UC Santa Barbara in the semifinals before defeating Boise State.

        But things get tougher Friday.

        Henson has gone up against Kentucky in NCAA Tournament play before, in an Elite Eight matchup in 1984. The Wildcats edged a Derek Harper-led Illini team 54-51 in a regional final played in Lexington.

NEW MEXICO ST.
        • ABOUT THE SCHOOL: Location—Las Cruces, N.M. Nickname—Aggies. Colors— Crimson and White.

        • RECORD: 23-9.

        HOW THEY GOT HERE: Big West Champion.

        • NCAA HISTORY: 10-17 in 15 years. Last made the tournament in 1994.

        • COACH: Lou Henson. 214-92 in 11 years; 704-352, 36 years overall.

        • KEY PLAYERS: Charles Gosa, a 6-foot-8 forward (14.9 points, 8.1 rebounds).

        • NOTABLE: Henson signed the five starters of Northeastern Illinois, which dropped its basketball program.

       



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