Bairstow leads No. 25 New Mexico over Nevada 72-58
By SCOTT SONNER
RENO, Nev. (AP) Cameron Bairstow helped New Mexico overcome the sluggish start that coach Craig Neal had feared.
Bairstow scored 14 of his 22 points in the second half as the 25th-ranked Lobos rallied from an early 14-point deficit to win their fifth straight game, 72-58 over Nevada on Sunday.
"I thought our guys hung in there. We got off to a slow start, but to outscore them by 18 in the second half was big," Neal said. "Cam was a monster late in the game"
Kendall Williams added 11 points and 10 assists to become the Mountain West Conference's career assists leader. Alex Kirk had 10 points and 11 rebounds for the Lobos (24-5, 14-2), who remained tied for first place with No. 13 San Diego State.
The Lobos host Air Force on Wednesday before their regular-season finale Saturday at San Diego State.
Deonte Burton and Cole Huff had 15 points each for the Wolf Pack (13-16, 8-8), who held a 31-17 lead but were outscored 10-0 over the last 4:28 of the first half en route to their sixth loss in seven games.
New Mexico is 7-0 on the road in league play.
"It's impressive," Neal said "I've got a tough-minded group ... a resilient group. I'm getting a lot better play off the bench than I thought we would. I think our starters are trusting them more and I thought our defense was terrific in the second half."
Williams, a senior, said the career assist mark is his proudest individual accomplishment. He has 591, putting him ahead of UNLV's Oscar Bellfield, who had 582 from 2008-12.
"Assists mean so much," Williams said. "It means you're not only creating for yourself, but you're obviously creating for other people. It's a nice record, no doubt. `'
Williams and backcourt mate Hugh Greenwood combined for 15 assists with no turnovers.
"I always brag about my bigs because everyone wants to talk about my bigs," Neal said, "but I'll take my guards against anybody."
Nevada coach David Carter said his frontline was outmanned by the 6-foot-9 Bairstow and 7-foot Kirk.
"Those two big guys are a load. They're really good," Carter said. "It's hard because they're great passers as well. Both big guys can shoot the elbow shot. You have to pick your poison, really. You're either going to let them play 1-on-1 in the post and maybe get in foul trouble, or you can force them to throw it out and let someone else beat you."
Huff's baseline jumper tied the score at 49 with 9:04 remaining, but Cullen Neal followed a 3-pointer with two free throws and Greenwood made his first 3 to give the Lobos a 57-49 lead with 6:41 left.
Burton's dunk cut it to 62-56 but Bairstow hit a jumper and Greenwood and Cleveland Thomas made consecutive 3-pointers for a 70-56 lead with about 1:30 remaining.
Bairstow, who was 7 of 13 from the field, came in leading the conference in scoring with an average of 20.2 points. Burton is second at 19.9, but he was held below his average again after scoring only 12 points in a 90-72 loss at New Mexico on Feb. 15.
Craig Neal said much of the credit went to Kirk's defensive play inside.
"Alex was unbelievable defensively. He just changes so many shots, takes up so much space. It's hard to drive in there when he's there," he said.
Craig Neal had warned it was important for his Lobos to get off to a fast start on the road, but they promptly turned the ball over five times in the first 8 minutes before Nevada went on an 11-2 run midway through the half to open a 26-15 lead.
It grew to 31-17 when Burton followed Huff's 3-pointer from the corner with two free throws with 4:28 left. But New Mexico answered with the 10-0 run capped by Bairstow's inside basket to cut it to 31-27 at halftime.
New Mexico turned the ball over seven times, but only once after halftime, while Nevada had four of its six turnovers in the second half.
"The team that made the fewest mistakes was going to win," Carter said. "We made more mistakes than they did. When you're playing a veteran team, you can't make a lot of mistakes."
Williams said the Wolf Pack did a good job early of double-teaming New Mexico's big men.
"Once our guards felt comfortable penetrating and making shots, eventually it opened it up for the bigs and that's our go-to," he said. "We've been through the grind of tough games. Down the stretch, we're starting to feel very comfortable. The team counts on us to really set the tone. They rely on us for that comfort level."
Updated March 2, 2014