New Mexico Lobos Mountain West Basketball – In The Pit
Saturday: New Mexico 90, Nevada 72
Wednesday: New Mexico at UNLV, 9:05 p.m. (MT) – ESPN2, 770-AM
By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
Maybe the Lobos were angry. Maybe Alex Kirk was angry or maybe feeling unappreciated. Maybe the Lobos had an early plane to catch to their next stop on the Mountain West tour – Las Vegas.
There are basketball games you can declare over at the half because of a huge gap on the scoreboard, but the statistics often have a halftime look to them.
Not Saturday in The Pit in New Mexico’s 90-72 romp of Nevada.
At the half, Alex Kirk had 19 points. At the half, New Mexico had 17 assists. At the half, the 7-foot-1 Kirk and the 6-9 Cameron Bairstow had combined for 33 points.
Hey, that’s a good 40 minutes of work.
“I thought the first half was the best we played,” said Lobo Coach Craig Neal. “I thought that was the best that we moved the ball side to side. It was a good night for our guys."
When you consider the numbers UNM threw up over the Wolf Pack in the first 20 minutes, it’s almost mind boggling.
New Mexico shot 67 percent from the floor. Kirk was 8-of-9 from the floor. There really was no way for Nevada to stop the duo of Kirk and Bairstow.
The good things about putting the Wolf Pack into their rear view mirror – for now – is that the Lobos can focus on the trip to Vegas and a rematch with the Runnin' Rebels, who defeated the Lobos down in The Pit 76-73.
"We'll be working on Vegas tonight," said Coach Neal of his team's next opponent.
This Thomas & Mack Center war will not be a game for those weak of heart.
Hey, if you consider the 67 percent that UNM shot in the first half at home sensational or sizzling, consider the percentage the UNLV Rebels threw up at Utah State in the second half earlier on Saturday: 69.2 percent.
The Rebs went 18-of-26 from the floor. The Utah State Aggies had only seven turnovers, out-boarded the Rebs by 10 and lost 73-62.
If the Lobos and the Rebels shoot like this Wednesday night in Vegas, the Thomas & Mack Center might have to bring in another scoreboard. Well, except the Lobos and the Rebels probably are too good on defense to allow those types of numbers.
We’ll see on Wednesday.
The Lobos’ defense in The Pit on Saturday was pretty good – but more in the first half. Did we mention the Wolf Pack had only 24 points at the half? In the second half, the Wolf Pack had 33 points with 7:14 to play. Not that the Lobos were in trouble. The score at that moment in The Pit was 77-57. But Nevada shot 42.2 percent in the first half and was at 52.2 percent with 7:14 to play.
"I thought we got off to a slow start in the second half," said Neal.
And not that you can blame the Lobos for losing a little focus-- well, unless you are a member of the UNM coaching staff. But when you are up 24 at the half, well …
With 3:59 to go, the Lobos were up 81-65 and Bairstow and Kirk had combined for 51 points. Nevada was 8-of-13 from 3-point range (61.5 percent) to keep the gap from spreading. The Pack finished 11-of-21 from long range.
Coach Neal said when his Towers combine for 53 points, "it's going to be hard to beat us."
"Alex was really effective and really played with his body on people," Neal continued. "That’s the Alex Kirk I know. I think he is going to continue to do that (play physical). He is moving really, really well.”
The Lobos were good in a lot of areas including going 19-of-21 from the free-throw line. They had 27 assists. Kirk ended with 29 points and Bairstow had 24. Cullen Neal joined the Twin Towers in double figures with 10 points.
Here’s a key stat: UNM outscored Nevada 42-24 in the paint (18 points) and won by 18 points. Kirk and Bairstow were fierce inside. Bairstow added 11 boards for a double-double and Kirk and Kendall Williams each had five assists. Hugh Greenwood had seven assists. Williams, the top ball stealer in the MW, had three steals.
Kirk and Bairstow combined to go 20-of-30 from the floor. UNM ended the game shooting 55 percent. The Lobos had 22 points off turnovers.