ST. LOUIS — The fawning over Cameron Bairstow is old news in Albuquerque.
But the national attention the 6-foot-9 University of New Mexico power forward has been receiving this week entering the NCAA Tournament has started to take on a life of its own.
The senior Aussie is averaging 20.3 points per game, and he’s coming off a dominating three-day stretch as the Mountain West tournament MVP in Las Vegas, Nev., one-season after he had to have the meaning of an all-tournament team explained to him.
“He has a chance to be a breakout star in the NCAA Tournament,” said CBS/Sports Illustrated analyst Seth Davis on Wednesday night on a pre-tournament broadcast. “He’s one of the most improved players in the tournament. He’s the biggest reason why New Mexico has a great chance to upset Kansas (in a possible Round of 32 game Sunday) and play deep into the bracket.”
When Raphielle Johnson of NBC’s College Basketball Talk ranked the top 68 players in the tournament, Bairstow checked in at No. 11, ahead of several players who are getting All-America consideration.
So what does Bairstow, the workout freak who is almost robotic about his preparation and daily health routine, think about all the hype?
“I think I’ve been receiving more and more attention as the year’s gone on, and it hasn’t really affected me,” Bairstow said. “I still don’t feel any different about it all, so I don’t really consider it a factor.”
REUNION TIME: This won’t be the first time UNM senior guard Kendall Williams and Stanford Cardinal junior guard Anthony Brown have shared a court. The two played on the same AAU team in California for a time in their early teenage years and have already exchanged text messages this week, according to an interview with Brown posted on the Stanford athletics website.
“It was great playing with him in AAU,” Brown said. “One thing about Kendall is he’s extremely confident and extremely competitive, and he brings the best out of his teammates.”
MORE REUNIONS: Williams and junior teammate Alex Kirk joined Stanford’s Chasson Randle and Josh Huestis among the initial 27 players invited last summer to try out for the 2013 USA Basketball World University Games roster.
The players worked out together in Colorado Springs at the Olympic training facility for a couple of days before the final roster of 12 was named. Only Kirk made the final cut.
BAD MEMORY: The world-famous Gateway Arch may be the iconic symbol tourists love to see when visiting St. Louis, but it may have brought back bad memories for some Lobos.
The last time UNM played in St. Louis, they lost to the Saint Louis Billikens 60-46 on Dec. 31, 2012, in a game that the Lobos were held to 13 first-half points and committed 21 turnovers total.
That was also the first time Craig Neal, then the associate head coach, ever coached the Lobos on his own. Former Lobos coach Steve Alford was ejected from that game for the only time in his coaching career, leaving Neal to run the team for the rest of the game. UNM was plus-seven on the scoreboard after the Alford ejection — UNM was down 21 after the technical free throws resulting in the ejection and ended up losing by 14.
Friday’s game, fortunately for the Lobos, will be played in the Scottrade Center, not the Chaifetz Arena where the Billikens play.