Ohio State's LaQuinton Ross shoots over the outstretched arm of Arizona's Grant Jerrett for the game-winning three-pointer with two seconds remaining at Staples Center.


A day after New Mexico State visited McKale Center early last season, the Aggies were forced to fly directly to Massachusetts, where they lost a pair of games in the ensuing two days.

This season, the Aggies had just a day to prepare to host Arizona after arriving on a red-eye journey back from Alaska, where they played three games in three days during the Great Alaska Shootout.

They aren't about to complain.

NMSU dealt with the lousy scheduling in order to lure the Wildcats into visiting their place, something that hasn't happened in 40 years despite only 275 highway miles separating the two schools.

"It's definitely a big game for our program, our team and our school," NMSU associate head coach Paul Weir said. "Obviously, the Arizona name is incredible."

Tonight's game is the kind of matchup rarely seen anymore, when a team from a high-major conference voluntarily visits a team from a mid-major conference.

More often, teams from different levels only play at neutral sites, during assigned multi-team events or at the home of the higher-level team in what's known as a one-time "guarantee" game, which refers to the amount of money the home team gives the opponent for showing up.

This one came about because Arizona's November 2010 home game with San Diego State was postponed by an SDSU conflict and the Wildcats wanted to fill the hole with a comparable opponent at McKale Center.

Arizona agreed to a two-year series with the Aggies that promised a return game tonight at the Pan American Center, and a deal was struck.

"We only really wanted to do a series," Weir said. "We were never interested in a guarantee."

There's no telling when this matchup will ever happen again at the Pan Am Center. Lute Olson never scheduled a road game at NMSU, and UA coach Sean Miller said he thinks the schools have "moved in a different direction" with their future nonconference schedules.

But for now, at least, Miller is embracing the challenge. Not only is it a true road game in a potentially hostile environment, but the Aggies are also pretty good.

NMSU is 5-1 after winning two of three games in Alaska and has the kind of aggressiveness and rebounding ability that Miller is always looking for in his team.

"If you think about that energy of (NMSU's) offensive rebounding and (creating) turnovers," Miller said, "it's going to be a great challenge against a terrific team, a team that I have no doubt will be in this year's postseason."

In fact, the whole idea that tonight's game is about high-major vs. mid-major is a notion Miller indicated he is not comfortable with.

"I'm coming from Xavier, so I don't look at mid-major, I really don't," Miller said. "It's unfair to the players at New Mexico State to categorize them.

"Quite a few players on New Mexico State's team, if they played on our team, would be really good players at Arizona. There's so much parity in college basketball. Just look around in these early tournaments and look at the teams who are winning the championships."

Indeed, Miller could use Aggies such as forward Wendell McKines and big man Hamidu Rahman to shore up Arizona's struggling interior play. Instead, Miller will have to try to oppose them with a big lineup or try to outrace them with a smaller, more explosive and more energetic lineup.

Either way, it probably won't be easy, no matter who is from the Pac-12 and who is from the Western Athletic Conference.

It was New Mexico State, after all, that opened as a 1.5-point favorite in tonight's game, according to VegasInsider.com.

"I don't know if we're expected to win. I think it's going to be a just a really, really hard game," Miller said. "When you look at nonconference scheduling … if you're a program that's trying to improve, to test yourself with a chance to play quality opponents, this is what's required.

"Us going to New Mexico State is a great challenge. No question about it."


• Who: Arizona at New Mexico St.

• When: 7 p.m.

• TV: FSAZ Plus