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Sun-News Spotlight: Wilfried Likayi's impact for NMSU

Justin Martinez   | Las Cruces Sun-News

LAS CRUCES – Forget GameStop. Buy stock in Wilfried Likayi.

The New Mexico State men's basketball team entered the 2020-21 campaign with four preseason All-WAC team selections: Jabari Rice, Johnny McCants, Donnie Tillman and Evan Gilyard II.

That core was expected to lead the way for the Aggies this season, but one player who's quickly rising through the ranks is Likayi.

The 6-foot-9 forward was set to make his Aggie debut last season after transferring from Casper College. That never came to fruition, though, after Likayi tore his meniscus and LCL in the summer and missed the entire campaign as a result.

Now healthy, Likayi is providing valuable minutes for a New Mexico State team that's looking for players to step up. The redshirt junior is averaging 10 points and 3.7 rebounds in just 20.7 minutes per game, and he recently worked his way into the starting lineup.

Likayi is the focus of our Sun-News Spotlight, a weekly series where I highlight a player from the New Mexico State men's basketball team and detail what he brings to the table.

Here's a look at how Likayi makes an impact for the Aggies, including film breakdowns from his first few outings.

More: Sun-News Spotlight: Gerald Doakes' impact for NMSU

Spot searching

Despite not being a go-to option for New Mexico State just yet, Likayi makes the most of his opportunities by taking good shots.

The Portland, Oregon native knows where his spots on the floor are and does a good job of getting to them, which allows him to cash in at a high rate. Likayi's offensive rating clocks in at 122.1, according to KenPom, and that's second only to Cal Baptist's Mark Carbone in the WAC.

Take a look at this play from New Mexico State's conference opener against Grand Canyon on Friday.

Likayi is able to spread the floor well on offense, and he specializes in wing 3-pointers.

After draining a triple from the right wing two possessions prior to this, the stretch big is now looking to get to that same spot. Likayi passes up on a shot at the top of the arc, slips behind McCants and gets into position.

Clayton Henry feeds him the ball before Grand Canyon's Alessandro Lever can recover, and the shot finds the bottom of the net.

Likayi's patience is also on display in this clip from the Aggies' game against the Lopes on Saturday.

Likayi sets numerous screens for Rice on this possession.

It isn't until the second one that the Lopes' defense breaks down, and the redshirt junior takes advantage by rolling to the rim and calling for the ball. Rice then rewards him with the dime and the easy finish.

Players such as Rice, McCants and Tillman are the top scoring options for New Mexico State, but Likayi's ability to score within the flow of the offense makes him a key contributor.

Secure the ball

Another strength of Likayi's game is his ball security.

The power forward has the patience to let plays develop, and it shows in the advanced stats. Likayi boasts a turnover rate of only 5.4, according to KenPom, which ranks eighth in the country.

Check out this clip from New Mexico State's season opener against Arizona Christian on Nov. 29, 2020.

Despite getting the ball at one of his hot spots, Likayi surveys the floor for the best option rather than letting it fly.

Rice rolls off a screen from Gilyard, and Likayi waits until the perfect time to whip a pass to the fellow redshirt junior for the bucket.

When it comes to turnovers, it's good that there isn't much film to show. Likayi is already proving that he can be trusted with the ball in his hands, and that's a big reason why his minutes have increased as of late.

Clean contesting

Likayi also finds ways to contribute on the defensive side of the ball.

The redshirt junior isn't the most tenacious defender, but he still excels at contesting his opponents' shots without fouling. Likayi commits an average of 0.7 fouls per 40 minutes, according to KenPom, which ranks first in the entire country.

Check out this clip from New Mexico State's game against Western New Mexico on Jan. 25.

After missing a 3-pointer, Likayi gets back in transition and meets Amarion Cash at the rim.

Cash gets Likayi to bite on the pump fake and leans in to draw a foul, but Likayi doesn't quit on the play. Instead, he swipes down on the ball and gets the clean steal.

Then there's this play from New Mexico State's first game against Grand Canyon.

Likayi initially makes the mistake of going under on a screen and leaving Lever, a big man with range, wide open on the perimeter. 

But the JUCO product recovers well, sticks with Lever as he drives toward the rim and doesn't bite on the pump fake. Likayi stays vertical and gets a clean contest on the shot, which rims out.

Likayi is able to hang with players both on the perimeter and down low, and his ability to avoid fouling in the process only makes him more valuable for the Aggies.

Final thoughts

Likayi's role continues to grow with every game, and it's not hard to see why.

The first-year Aggie spaces the floor well, defends cleanly and doesn't lack confidence when he's on the court.

While players such as Rice, McCants and Tillman should continue to be New Mexico State's go-to options, Likayi's increase in production is a welcomed site for a team that needs all the depth it can get.

Justin Martinez can be reached at (575) 541-5455, or @JTheSportsDude on Twitter.