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Thursday, December 18, 2014

New Mexico men dump Nevada, at Air Force Saturday

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By Juan Labreche / New Mexico Daily Lobo

Junior guard Tony Snell chats with UNM men’s basketball head coach Steve Alford at the game against Boise State on Feb. 16 at The Pit. UNM faces Air Force in the regular-season finale Saturday.

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Based on Wednesday night’s game, No. 12 New Mexico showed it’s not taking this week off.

The Lobos, already the No. 1 seed in next week’s Mountain West Tournament, powered their way past Nevada in their second-to-last regular-season contest. The 75-62 win in Reno, Nev., is UNM’s sixth in a row.

The last game of the regular season for UNM (26-4, 13-2 MWC) will be at Air Force on Saturday.

“We still have an urgency to win,” UNM junior forward Cameron Bairstow said. “We know what this (Nevada) game means for the NCAA tournament. Even though we’re not playing for a conference championship at the moment, it’s about seeding.”

The Lobos reached the 26-win mark for the fifth time in UNM history. Every 26-win season has happened subsequent to the 1995-96 season, and this is Steve Alford’s third 26-win season as Lobo head coach.

Junior guard Tony Snell scored a game-high 25 points, netting UNM’s last 10 points of the first half over a 3-minute, 6-second stretch. He hit eight of his 11 field goal attempts, including three 3-pointers.

The Lobos led by as many as 16 points late in the game against last-place Nevada (12-17, 3-12 MWC). UNM built that margin using a 17-0 run over a five-minute span, holding a 72-56 advantage with 3:12 remaining. The Wolf Pack was 4 of 10 on field goals in the final five minutes.

“To start the second half, the first 10 minutes wasn’t the way we were capable of playing defense,” said Alford, whose team trailed 56-55 before the rally. “The last 10 minutes, it’s almost like the team said ‘That’s enough,’ and they cranked up the defense.”

Bairstow and sophomore center Alex Kirk both posted double digits in points and rebounds. Bairstow earned his first career double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds, while Kirk got his eighth with 11 points and 10 rebounds.

The duo has combined for 95 points and 50 rebounds over the last three games. UNM has not had two double-doubles in a single game since Roman Martinez and Darington Hobson did it against Colorado State in 2010.

In addition to his 10 points, Lobo junior guard Kendall Williams provided five assists. He now has 422 career assists, moving past Willie Banks for seventh all-time on the UNM list.

It was the fifth time this season the Lobos have shot above 50 percent from the field, and their season-high 56-percent shooting clip came against Nevada on Feb. 2.

“We knew the pressure was off, but I was concerned just on what our effort, what our demeanor, what our concentration and focus would be,” Alford said. “I told them in the locker room how pleased and proud I was of them because they came out focused.”

In its regular-season finale, UNM plays an Air Force squad it defeated 81-58 on Feb. 6. Since then, Air Force (16-12, 7-8 MWC) lost five of seven games. Air Force has averaged 65.5 points offensively through 15 conference games, giving up 68.1 per game.

The Falcons host UNM, following back-to-back losses against Fresno State and San Diego State, in Colorado Springs at 4 p.m. Saturday.