Kendall Williams is one of the main reasons New Mexico is a favorite to win the Mountain West title, but coach Steve Alford hopes the talented junior guard can overcome his disciplinary issues.
Williams returns from a one-game benching Wednesday night as the 19th-ranked Lobos visit a surprising Boise State team reinstating three players of its own.
After Williams, who averages team highs of 14.6 points and 4.6 assists, showed up late to a team meeting Friday, Alford had enough. It was the third time Williams had failed to arrive on time for either games, meetings or practices this season.
Alford decided to sit him for all of Saturday's 72-45 victory over Fresno State. Williams had missed only one other game during his 2 1/2 years with the program.
"I did the benching in minutes and this was a benching for a game," Alford said. "He has to learn. He has to learn this is a team game and a team meeting is a team meeting.
"When you're dealing with 18- to 22-year olds, frustration is always going to be a part of the job at some point. But you just hope guys learn lessons."
New Mexico (15-2, 2-0) learned it can win even without its leading scorer, getting 19 points and 14 rebounds from center Alex Kirk and 16 points from forward Cameron Bairstow.
Alford said Kirk and Bairstow establishing the frontcourt game is important moving forward.
"I tell you what, those two bigs, they're a load," Alford said. "We're starting to get an identity down low with what we can do with those two guys."
Kirk has averaged 17.5 points and 9.5 boards in the last four games for the Lobos, the early co-leaders in the conference along with No. 15 San Diego State. New Mexico now faces a Broncos team that has played well against top competition while trying to establish itself as a legitimate threat for the league title.
Boise State (13-2, 1-0) opened conference play by handing Wyoming its first defeat, winning 63-61 last Wednesday on Jeff Elorriaga's 3-pointer at the buzzer. The Broncos matched their victory total from a disappointing 2011-12 season despite missing four players.
Leading scorer Derrick Marks, top reserve Mikey Thompson and backup forward Darrious Hamilton were suspended one game by coach Leon Rice for an unspecified violation of team rules. Senior center Kenny Buckner was given a three-game suspension as part of multiple disciplinary actions Rice called "one of the hardest decisions I've ever had to make."
Marks, who averages 16.3 points, has keyed Boise State's success - especially against marquee opponents. He scored 24 as the Broncos pushed then-No. 15 Michigan State to the wire before falling 74-70 on the road Nov. 20. He was more impressive in an 83-70 victory at then-No. 11 Creighton on Nov. 28, scoring a career-high 35.
Anthony Drmic (15.6 points per game) also has proven to be a scoring threat, owning a 34-point effort in a win over LSU on Dec. 14. Elorriaga is second in the conference in 3-point accuracy at 49.5 percent, and the Broncos lead the conference in that category (42.3) as well as points per game (78.1).
"They won at Wyoming with a lot of guys out," Alford said. "They test your defense. They can really score in a lot of ways and they extend your defense with the 3-ball."
These teams hadn't met until last season, when New Mexico won the two matchups by a combined 31 points.
The Broncos, off to their best start since 1987-88, have won their seven home games by an average of 27.2 points.