New Mexico Lobos Basketball – In The Pit – Mountain West Conference
Saturday: New Mexico 80, Colorado State 73
By Richard Stevens – Senior Writer/GoLobos.com.
“The journey started today,” said Lobo Coach Craig Neal. “It goes up a notch. The intensity. What it means.”
What the scoreboard that flashed 80-73 in New Mexico’s favor over Colorado State means is that the Lobos begin the Mountain West wars where they plan to finish them – on the top of the standings.
The Lobos (10-3, 1-0) opened MW play Saturday in The Pit and muscled and ran past the 0-2 CSU Rams. The running was provided by several Lobos highlighted by Kendall Williams scoring 22 points and adding eight rebounds and seven assists.
The muscle was provided by Cameron Bairstow and Alex Kirk, who combined for 39 points and 25 boards. Bairstow did most of the lifting with a career-tying 29 points and 14 boards. He went 13-of-20 from the free-throw line.
“Probably pretty early on,” said Bairstow of figuring out he could get to the line vs. a CSU defense that had no “stop” for Bairstow. “I think the free-throw line was key tonight.”
Said Coach Neal: “I think he (Bairstow) realizes he’s a hard cover. He has expanded his game so he can put it on the floor and get fouled.”
The Lobos went 21-of-30 from the line to 15-of-20 for CSU. UNM shot 42.9 percent from the floor and CSU shot 37.3 percent. The Lobos were up 15 (63-48) in the second half, but allowed a CSU charge to cut it to 74-68 with 1:19 to play.
“A lot of it is mental, staying mentally engaged,” said Bairstow of allowing CSU to rally. “It’s something we need to fix because it could be a serious issue.”
Said Coach Neal: “We can’t get up double-figure points and not extend it out. That’s when you put teams away.”
The Rams’ rally never really threatened to reclaim the lead on the scoreboard. But it makes UNM’s eventual trip to Fort Collins appear to be a tester. The Lobos looked to be coasting past the Rams in The Pit – thanks to Bairstow and Williams’ efforts in scoring. They combined to go 14-of-31 from the field. Williams went 6-of-18.
“This is probably the most shots I’ve taken all year and I probably wouldn’t take many of them back,” said Williams, who joined BYU’s Jimmer Fredette with in an elite MW club with 1,500 points, 500 assists and 150 steals.
The Lobos returned Hugh Greenwood to the lineup and he played a solid floor game with a solid stat line of eight points and three assists. “Just his presence,” said Williams of the importance of Greenwood’s return. “He gives us a lot of intangibles you can’t even account for.”
Said Coach Neal: “I got everything I wanted out of him.”
Kirk was 5-of-14 from the floor. Neal used only three bench players, who produced nine points.
“He (Kirk) just has to continue shooting until he knocks them down. We have full faith in him,” said Bairstow. “I don’t think he had a terrible game tonight. When you get a double-double and five blocks, that’s a good game for most people.”
CSU got 25 points from Daniel Bejarano, who went 5-of-7 from 3-point range. J.J. Avila had 14 points and Jon De Ciman had 13 points and seven boards.
The Lobos were the preseason pick to win the MW crown – a crown they have worn for two consecutive seasons both at the end of regular-season play and at the end of the MW Tournament.
“Once conference starts it’s another season,” said Neal. “We have a program here and every time we put a team on the floor we are trying to win a championship.”
Second Half: Colorado State 42, New Mexico 41
The Lobos came out of the half up 39-31 and quickly expanded their lead to 43-31. CSU called time at the 17:00 mark after Bejarano had picked up his second foul of the half and his fourth of the game. This was a huge dent in the Rams’ offense that leans so much on Bejarano and Avila.
The Lobos got a trey from Greenwood on the baseline to go up 50-39 and another baseline bomb (plus one) by Williams to make it a 54-41 count in UNM’s favor. That score was carried into the 11:45 media break. Both teams were shooting 33.3 percent at that mark. UNM had outscored CSU 26-to-12 in the paint.
The Rams cut UNM’s lead to 54-46 before a UNM run that ended with two Bairstow free throws made it 59-46. Bairstow got a rest at 8:40 and a standing ovation from The Pit. He sat down with 23 points and 12 boards.
The Rams made several stabs to cut into UNM’s lead – mostly Bejarano treys. However, the Lobos kept making plays to stay ahead. A Greenwood baseline trey made it 67-53 before a Bejarano bomb made the score 67-56. CSU was still having trouble with Bairstow. He hit two free throws to help UNM take a 69-58 lead into the 3:45 break. The Lobos were up 11 heading into the final turn.
CSU made it interesting by cutting UNM’s lead to 69-62. Kirk made a sweet backdoor, bounce pass to Bairstow for an uncontested layup that gave UNM a 71-62 lead. Bairstow got one at the line at 1:50 to return UNM to an 11-point lead at 74-63. CSU didn’t roll over and a baseline trey made it 74-68 with 1:18 to go. Still, the Rams needed a lot of things to go their way in the final 1:18.
They didn’t get them and UNM held on for its first MW win of 2014.
First Half: New Mexico 39, Colorado State 31
If you had to take a guess at CSU’s halftime strategy speech, it probably contained the words “stop” and “Bairstow.”
UNM’s mobile 6-9 forward slashed for 16 points and seven boards to lead all scorers in the half. The Lobos also got double digits from Williams with 10 points to go with his four assists.
The Lobos won the board battle by five, shot 48.4 percent from the floor and outscored CSU by five at the free-throw line to take an eight-point lead up the ramp. The Rams only got 10 minutes from Daniel Bejarano, who went to the bench nursing two early fouls. Avila got hot down the stretch to score 10 for CSU.
The Rams hit their first three 3-pointers of the half and missed their final five from long range to go 3-of-8. UNM had 24 boards to 19 for CSU. The Rams shot 36.1 percent from the floor in the first 20 minutes. UNM had four turnovers and CSU had three. UNM had four blocked shots with Kirk swatting away three of them. UNM went 7-of-11 from the line with CSU at 2-of-3. Bairstow was 4-of-8 from the line and Williams was 3-of-3.
The Rams jumped up 5-0, but UNM closed to a 5-5 tie and at 12:35 the teams were locked at 15-all. The Rams were leaning on the jumpers of Bejarano, who had seven of CSU’s first 10 points and UNM was being pulled by Bairstow. Bejarano did not score again in the half.
At the 11:28 media break, UNM was up 17-15 behind Bairstow’s eight points. UNM was shooting 58.3 percent from the floor. CSU was 3-of-3 from 3-point range at that stop.
The Lobos created a small gap at the 8:44 break: 24-18. The Lobos got offensive put-backs from Cleveland Thomas and Bairstow to form that six-point lead. At the 7:52 stop, UNM had doubled CSU on the boards – 16-to-8 – and were shooting 55.6 percent from the floor. The score was 26-20.
The Rams closed to 26-23, but at the final media break of the half at 3:52 the Lobos had pulled into a 32-23 lead. Bairstow now had 14 points. CSU’s top two scorers – Bejarano and Avila had combined for nine points. CSU was shooting 32.1 percent and UNM was gunning at a 48.0 clip.
Avila scored eight points down the stretch for CSU, but the Rams had trouble stopping UNM at the other end. UNM closed with a Williams’ trey and a Bairstow layup to form the Lobos’ 39-31 halftime lead.