It’s no secret the New Mexico Lobos have what many college basketball programs covet with not one, but two skilled big men.
But the dynamic inside duo of the 6-foot-9 Cameron Bairstow and 7-foot Alex Kirk haven’t always figured out this season how to dominate together.
Saturday, that wasn’t a problem. The two combined for 53 points in a lopsided 90-72 blowout of the Nevada Wolf Pack.
“I thought my big men tonight were as dominant as I’ve ever seen them,” Lobos head coach Craig Neal said. “They’re pretty dang good.”
In fact, the combined stat line for the pair was the sort of thing that makes opposing Mountain West coaches lose sleep. Bairstow (24) and Kirk (29) got their 53 points on 20-of-30 shooting (66.7 percent), were a perfect 12-of-12 from the free throw line, grabbed 16 rebounds (11 from Bairstow), dished out eight assists and blocked four shots (all from Kirk).
Six of those eight assists were to one another, including all five of Kirk’s assists setting up Bairstow buckets, as the two often worked the high-low offense to perfection.
“Those guys are big down there,” Nevada’s 6-8 sophomore forward Cole Huff said. “They’re definitely one of the toughest (offenses Nevada’s played in the Mountain West this season). Hats off to them. They had mismatches down there and we couldn’t stop it.”
After the Boise State Broncos came from 11 points down to beat UNM on Wednesday by using a trapping defense in the post, the Lobos (19-5, 10-2 Mountain West) anticipated post traps almost exclusively on Saturday.
Instead, they saw almost none.
“I though that would have been their whole game plan, and then I was a little surprised when they didn’t do it on my first post touch,” Bairstow said. “Obviously me and Alex kind of went off today so I don’t really understand their thoughts on that. But that was their game plan. It just didn’t pay off for them tonight.”
Said Kirk, “It felt like they kind of pressured (UNM’s guards) more and they didn’t really have that weak side (defender) just kind of clogging up the middle. When that weak side (defender) is in there, you can’t really throw those high-low passes.”
Taking what Nevada (12-14, 7-6) was giving them, the Lobos went to Bairstow on six of their first eight possessions. He and Kirk scored the team’s first 10 points to open up a 10-2 lead with 15:13 remaining in the opening half. The lead reached as many as 24 by halftime at 48-24.
Nevada did hit nine of its 11 3-pointers in the second half, but never really threatened to make a game of it.
Nevada star guard Deonte Burton, who entered the game leading the Mountain West in scoring at 20.4 points per game, had just one point in the first half (he finished with 12).
By game’s end, Bairstow’s season scoring average of 20.3 points per game gave him the league’s scoring lead for the first time this season over Burton’s 20.1 points per game.
“It’s something I’ve never thought about,” Bairstow said. “… It is what it is. It’s just numbers at the end of the day.”
But his numbers and those of the entire Lobos side of the final stat sheet were a welcome sight for Neal.
“If we can play like we did the first half of Boise and the first half like we did tonight,” Neal said, “that’s what I envisioned with my team and we’re pretty good.”
Cullen Neal scored 10 points and hit three 3-pointers, leading a 24-point bench scoring effort. UNM assisted on 27 of its 32 field goals and was 19-of-21 (90.5 percent) from the free throw line. Nevada got 18 points apiece from Huff and guard Michael Perez.
PIT BULL: Chicago Bull rookie and former Lobo Tony Snell received a huge ovation Saturday as he walked down the Pit ramp pregame with Craig Neal. See more on Snell’s return in Monday’s Journal.
ATTENDANCE: The Pit was sold out on Sunday (15,411) for the fifth sell out of the season.
NO NICK: Craig Neal said it was a “coach’s decision” not to play sophomore forward Nick Banyard on Saturday. It was not injury related.
West 1-4 0-0 2, Huff 6-16 1-1 18, Evans, Jr. 3-9 1-2 8, Perez 7-11 0-0 18, Burton 4-7 3-5 12, Coleman 2-8 1-2 5, Fenner 2-3 1-2 5, Stevens, Jr. 2-5 0-0 4, Stivrins 0-0 0-0 0, Bell 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 27-63 7-12 72.
NEW MEXICO (19-5)
Bairstow 9-13 6-6 24, Kirk 11-17 6-6 29, Greenwood 0-2 4-4 4, K. Williams 2-8 2-4 7, Delaney 1-2 0-0 2, Thomas 3-6 0-0 8, Aget 3-3 0-0 6, Neal 3-7 1-1 10, Lindsay 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 32-58 19-21 90.
Halftime—New Mexico 48-24. 3-Point Goals—Nevada 11-21 (Huff 5-9, Perez 4-5, Evans, Jr. 1-2, Burton 1-2, Coleman 0-3), New Mexico 7-16 (Neal 3-5, Thomas 2-4, Kirk 1-2, K. Williams 1-3, Delaney 0-1, Greenwood 0-1). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Nevada 31 (Evans, Jr. 8), New Mexico 31 (Bairstow 11). Assists—Nevada 14 (Burton 8), New Mexico 27 (Greenwood 7). Total Fouls—Nevada 16, New Mexico 12. A—15,411.