CAM is the name of Colorado State’s beloved sheep mascot.
CSU head coach Larry Eustachy is petitioning the school to change that name, at least until University of New Mexico senior forward Cameron Bairstow graduates.
The 6-foot-9 Lobo power forward abused the Rams’ front-court players Saturday in the Pit, scoring 29 points, grabbing 14 rebounds and drawing 14 fouls to lead UNM to an 80-73 victory in its Mountain West Conference opener in front of a capacity crowd of 15,411.
“I don’t think he’s a pro,” Eustachy said of Bairstow. “I think he’s a guy that might start for an NBA team.”
Bairstow scored the first seven points for UNM (10-3, 1-0 MWC) and had 16 by halftime.
When Eustachy realized his forwards simply couldn’t guard Bairstow’s deceptively quick first step without fouling him, he put guards on the senior from Australia. That only led to Bairstow’s size and strength taking over.
In either case, Bairstow ended up shooting a career-high 20 free throws in the game with a career-high 13 makes.
“I’m his biggest fan,” Eustachy added.
And how long into the game did it take Bairstow to realize the Rams (9-6, 0-2) weren’t going to be able to contain him?
“Probably pretty early on,” Bairstow said. “I had a couple of quick drives to the hoop and kind of went from there.”
Said Craig Neal: “I think he realizes he’s a hard cover. That’s one thing he’s done with his game. He expanded his game where he can put it on the floor and he can draw fouls.”
As Bairstow and 7-foot center Alex Kirk (10 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks for his ninth double-double of the season) demanded attention in the paint, Lobos senior Kendall Williams quietly did his damage from the outside.
Williams, who scored a career-high 46 points with a MWC record-tying 10 3-pointers in his last game against CSU last February, scored 22 points Saturday with eight rebounds and seven assists.
“It’s another rival, and this being my last year, I don’t want to take another rival for granted,” Williams said, referring to a December loss to New Mexico State. In that matchup, the Lobos felt they overlooked the Aggies after having beaten them 13 days prior in Las Cruces.
“It might not have been a 46-point performance, but the outcome and the way it played out, I’m really happy with where my game is right now and where the team is.”
It was the second straight MWC milestone game for Williams against CSU. His first three points of the game pushed him past the 1,500 career-point plateau. He joins former BYU star Jimmer Fredette as the only MWC players with 1,500 points, 500 assists and 150 steals in a career.
Saturday also marked the return to the starting lineup of point guard Hugh Greenwood, who missed the previous three games with a right wrist injury. He finished with eight points, three assists and two rebounds in 34 minutes played.
But not everything was rosy for the Lobos.
UNM built a 15-point lead on a Deshawn Delaney jumper with 7:17 left before the Rams got hot. Junior Daniel Bejarano hit a 3-pointer with 5:51 left, opening the offensive floodgates for CSU to score 25 points to close out the game. His 3-pointer with 34.4 seconds remaining cut the UNM lead to five before Williams did just enough to hold off CSU with four points in the final 27 seconds.
“You can’t give a team 25 points in the last (6 minutes) of a game,” Craig Neal said. “… They hit some tough shots, but what I told our guys is when we get up 13, that’s when we’ve got to put teams away. To win championships, you’ve got to guard.”
But it doesn’t hurt to have guys the other team can’t guard. Bairstow and Williams combined for 30 free-throw attempts, and UNM outscored CSU 34-16 in the paint. The Lobos also out-rebounded the Rams 48-40 and had 16 offensive boards leading to 14 second- chance points.
Bejarano’s 25 points and five 3-pointers led CSU. Forward J.J. Avila had 14 and Joe De Ciman added 13.