Fighting off a sluggish start for the second straight game, No.
25 New Mexico powered past Nevada 72-58 on Sunday afternoon at
Lawlor Events Center behind the usual suspects.
The win, the Lobos' 11th in the last 12 games, sends New Mexico
(23-5, 14-2 in the Mountain West) and San Diego State (25-3, 14-2)
into the final week of the regular season tied atop the league
standings. The rivals will face off March 8 in San Diego, with the
victor taking the conference regular-season title, barring an upset
earlier in the week.
"I haven't really talked about that game with the guys," said
first-year New Mexico coach Craig Neal, whose program has won at
least a share of the Mountain West title four of the last five
years. "I talk about one step in the journey to win a championship."
Against Nevada, the Lobos had to overcome their second big deficit
in as many games. The Wolf Pack (13-16, 8-8) led by as many as 14
points in the first half before New Mexico closed the half on a 10-0
run. The Lobos then had an 8-0 spurt when the game was tied at 49-49
with nine minutes remaining.
With the win, New Mexico improved to 7-0 on the road in conference
play, a statistic that pleased Neal.
"That's impressive," Neal said. "I've got a tough-minded group. I've
got a tough, resilient group. And I'm getting a lot better play off
the bench. I think our starters are trusting them a little more and
I thought our defense in the second half was outstanding."
Forward Cameron Bairstow scored a game-high 22 points, and guard
Kendall Williams (11 points, 10 assist) and center Alex Kirk (10
points, 11 rebounds, four blocks) both had double-doubles. New
Mexico struggled to get its two big guys, Bairstow and Kirk,
involved in the game early, but they were the difference down the
"It took us basically the whole first half to get the big guys
going," Williams said. "(Nevada) did a good job schematically of
double-teaming them and compacting things. Once our guards felt
comfortable penetrating and making shots, that opened it up for the
bigs, which is our go-to."
Said Neal of Bairstow's 14 second-half points: "Cam was a monster
late in the game."
New Mexico's guards weren't too shabby, either.
Williams and Hugh Greenwood combined for 15 assists and zero
turnovers. Williams became the Mountain West's all-time leader in
assists, his 591 career assists moving him past former UNLV player
"I always brag about my bigs because everybody wants to talk about
my bigs, but I'll take my guards against anybody," Neal said. "I
like Hugh and I like Kendall, and I think Kendall is a special kid
that doesn't get a lot of credit. He's done some things that are
unheard of in our conference and in our program."
Wolf Pack coach David Carter said it was a pick-your-poison
situation for his team. Either go one-on-one with New Mexico's
talented big men or focus on them and let the Lobos guards attack.
"It's hard because they're good passers as well," Carter said of New
Mexico's bigs. "Both guys can step out and hit the elbow shot. We
just have to pick your poison really. You're either going to play
1-on-1 in the post, maybe get in foul trouble, or you're going to
force it out and have someone else beat you."
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For the second straight outing, New Mexico struggled in the first
half. The Lobos needed a 23-5 second-half run to blow past Utah
State on Wednesday, and they went on a 23-7 run late to down Nevada.
The Lobos have become used to climbing out of slow starts. This is
the ninth time this season New Mexico has scored 30 points or fewer
in the first half. The team is 8-1 in those games, overcoming
halftime deficits in five of those games. Against Nevada, New Mexico
found its groove with about 10 minutes remaining.
"It was a matter of everybody, including the bench, getting
aggressive," Williams said. "Once the tide started turning, I think
you saw that roll. It took us longer than usual to find that and
once we did we found some good success and the end of the game was
Nevada was led by guard Deonte Burton (15 points, five assists),
forward Cole Huff (15 points) and forward A.J. West (10 points,
The Wolf Pack's second-half struggles started in the first half,
Carter said, when Nevada allowed New Mexico to close the opening
session on a 10-0 run.
"I thought they carried the momentum going into halftime," Carter
said. "I think we just stopped being aggressive once we got the
lead. I thought we got a little complacent."
The Wolf Pack fell into a tie for fifth place in the league
standings. With the top five teams receiving a bye in the conference
tournament, the Wolf Pack have plenty to play for down the stretch.
So, too, does New Mexico, which hosts Air Force on Wednesday before
the regular-season finale at San Diego State. The game against the
Falcons will be the final home game for Bairstow, Williams and
walk-on Chris Perez. Bairstow, who is having a breakout season, is
looking forward to his final game at The Pit.
"It's crazy that four years have already passed," he said. "It's
unbelievable. I tell the freshmen, 'Tomorrow you'll be in my
situation and you'll be wrapping it up, so enjoy it.' Playing in The
Pit for the last time will be bittersweet, but you have to make the
most of it and hopefully win a conference championship."
Notes: New Mexico improved to 3-0 all-time against Nevada. ... New
Mexico F Cameron Bairstow (20.2 ppg) leads the Mountain West in
scoring, while Nevada G Deonte Burton is second (19.9 ppg). ... New
Mexico's Bairstow, G Kendall Williams and G Chris Perez all moved
into a tie for third in program history in career wins with 102. ...
Williams passed Rob Robbins for eighth on New Mexico's all-time
scoring list. Williams has 1,741 career points and is third in
program history in assists with 591.
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