Lobos Kirk, Bairstow have been overshadowed the past three games
Two weeks ago, after New Mexico won its first two games of the Mountain West schedule powered by the emergence of big men Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow, the Lobos’ frontcourt was the talk of the league.
Coaches across the nine-team conference were praising the Lobos as one of the few teams with legitimate size, as Kirk and Bairstow had combined to average 32 points, 17 rebounds and shoot 52.2 percent in wins over UNLV and Fresno State.
UNM outrebounded UNLV and Fresno State 84-62 and outscored those teams 68-34 in the paint.
No. 15 New Mexico at Wyoming, 7 p.m.TV: Root SportsRadio: 770 AM
But the last three games have been a completely different story.
“I was concerned about their size with the two big kids inside,” SDSU coach Steve Fisher said Saturday. “We did a pretty good job of forcing them away from the basket and not letting them just pitch over us. We stood our ground.”
In UNM’s last three games – an overtime win at Boise State, a home win over Colorado State and Saturday’s loss to SDSU – Kirk and Bairstow have combined to average 9 points, 8.3 rebounds and shoot 22.6 percent.
UNM was outrebounded in those three games 121-87 and was outscored 78-42 in the paint.
“They took away just about everything that has been our strength, they took it away today,” UNM coach Steve Alford said.
SKY FALLING? Despite UNM jumping out to a 17-2 start to the season before Saturday’s loss, the best for the program since the 1977-78 season, the fan base still seems to panic after losses probably in part because of how spectacularly the Lobos have gone up in flames in those losses.
But UNM has not only answered the bell after its losses, it has done so in difficult situations.
UNM lost at home Dec. 22 to a South Dakota State team that bussed 1,220 miles from Nashville to make it in time to hold the Lobos to under 60 points until some meaningless last minute 3-pointers made the score look much closer than the game had actually played out on the court.
The Lobos responded in its next game with a 55-54 road win at then-No. 8 Cincinnati.
UNM lost Dec. 31 to Saint Louis in a game the Lobos had more turnovers (16) than points (13) in the first half.
The Lobos responded in its next game with a 65-60 win over then-No. 24 UNLV.
This week’s bounce-back game for UNM is Wednesday in Laramie, Wyo., where the Cowboys are desperate to get things back on track after their 13-0 nonconference record gave way to a 2-4 league record.
“A good basketball team is someone that can go away and edit what went wrong,” UNM point guard Hugh Greenwood said. “I think we’ll be ready for our next game at Wyoming.”
And as bad as the SDSU loss was, not even the Aztecs, a team that scored just nine points in the first half of a loss Jan. 19 at Wyoming, is thinking the Lobos are down for the count just because of one rotten performance.
“I think we frustrated them a little bit, but at the end of the day New Mexico is a good team and we still have to go play them (in Albuquerque),” said SDSU junior guard Jamaal Franklin. “I know it is going to be a hassle, us playing at the Pit.”
HALL ON THE CALL: UNM has made no secret it relies on the free throw line to win games, making 377 free throws this season compared to just 304 attempts from its opponents.
That has allowed them to overcome being the only ranked team in the country that has made fewer field goals than their opponents (439 to 424 after the SDSU loss).
UNM has attempted 14 or fewer free throws in three games this season – 11 each in Saturday’s loss to San Diego State and on Dec. 27 vs. Cincinnati, and 14 on Dec. 5 against USC. UNM won two of those games, but averaged just 54.7 points, well below the 69.5 points per game they’ve averaged in their other 17 contests.
One common denominator in those games: Each included referee David Hall as part of the officiating crew.
BUSSING TO VEGAS: Tixs for Kids, a registered 501c3 non-profit, is selling a travel and lodging package deal to the Mountain West Tournament in Las Vegas, Nev., in March. The packages have a $25 discount if purchased by Thursday.
For $250 ($275 if purchased after Thursday) a fan gets three nights (double occupancy) at Circus Circus hotel/casino in Las Vegas, a bus ticket to Vegas and transportation to all Lobos games in the tournament. For $300 ($325 after Thursday), the package includes a single-occupancy hotel room.
For fans who wish not to stay at Circus Circus, bus tickets are $150.
Tickets to the tournament are not included.
Contact Bobby Aragon at 980-4579 for more information.
— This article appeared on page B1 of the Albuquerque Journal