A Mountain West championship might not have been claimed Saturday night in The Pit – the Aztecs get their West Coast rematch -- but a Lobos’ name was firmly stamped on the Player of The Year trophy. UNM’s seemingly unstoppable Cameron Bairstow ripped through one of the nation’s premier defense for 26 points and sparked New Mexico to a 58-44 Mountain West victory over the No. 6 ranked San Diego State Aztecs. “I got the best power forward in the country playing for us in Cameron Bairstow,” said Lobo Coach Craig Neal. “I don’t’ think of that stuff,” Bairstow said of the MW Player of the Year award. “It’s just an award-type of thing. It’s not something that matters to me. It’s more about the team winning a conference championship. Honestly, it was never a goal of mine. To me, it doesn’t really matter.” Bairstow’s effort and points did help UNM’s bid to defend its MW title. The win pulled New Mexico (21-5, 12-2) into a tie for the top spot in the MW standings – a race that might be decided March 8 on the Aztecs’ floor. For sure, the Aztecs will have a lot to make up for – a lot to prove -- when New Mexico visits Viejas Arena. Game one was no contest. It was a Lobo beat down for at least one obvious reason: the Lobos can be outstanding on both ends of the court. Saturday in The Pit, the Aztecs were turned into a one dimensional team by New Mexico’s outstanding balance. The Aztecs ended shooting 32.3 percent from the floor. “That’s what a Pit game is about,” said Coach Neal. “You have to win those games if you want to be relevant and we want to be really relevant.” As a fan of Lobos, it was beautiful. As a fan of basketball, it wasn’t very exciting. This was like a first-round knockout. At one point, UNM led 47-26 and was shooting better than 65 percent in the first half. The Lobos ended up shooting 50 percent for the game and won the board battle 36-34 after being down seven rebounds at the half, 24-17. “I knew it was coming,” said Neal. “It was a win I know they wanted; a win I wanted. I thought the difference tonight was our defense. I wanted to get them (SDSU) in a half-court game. We wanted to give them space. We wanted them to make jump shots over us.” The Aztecs can be deadly on the dribble drive. Not so much with jumpers. At one point in the second half, SDSU was down 21 points and shooting 22 percent from the floor. Xavier Thames, another front runner for POY honors, went 3-of-15 from the floor scoring seven points. JJ O’Brien went 4-of-12. SDSU only had one player in double figures: Winston Sheppard with 10 points. The Aztecs finished with four assists. “It was just a big win,” said Neal. “I wanted that for those guys (Lobos) because those guys deserve it. Our defense was terrific tonight. We were getting good shots.” Said Bairstow: “We knew what was on the line and what the game meant to us.” Bairstow added nine boards to his POY resume and Kendall Williams had 10 points, seven assists and a single turnover. “Kendall Williams was terrific,” said Neal. “He had the ball a lot because of their pressure. “I think we are really, really tough minded. I have tough minded kids. They haven’t won championships before because they aren’t tough minded. I knew it was going to a war. I knew this was going to be a tough one.” The game was tough physically because both teams play hard and determined. The refs let these MW heavyweights go at it, too. The Aztecs shot three free throws and UNM shot six. “It was tough. It was really tough,” said UNM’s Hugh Greenwood. “It’s always a grind between us two teams. I kind of like that stuff. I enjoyed myself tonight. It was fun, but it definitely was a different level (of physicality).” “II was huge (win), but we know we have more games ahead of us and we still have to go to their place. Things are coming together, but we don’t want to peak too early.” Don’t tell the Aztecs that. The Aztecs probably are hoping they saw the Lobos’ peak Saturday night in The Pit.
New Mexico Lobos/Bairstow Pound San Diego St. Aztecs 58-44
GoLobos.com | Feb 23