Men's Basketball: Bairstow leading in MWC top scoring title
The top two scoring threats in the Mountain West went toe-to-toe Saturday afternoon at The Pit.
Advantage: Cameron Bairstow.
New Mexico basketball’s senior forward moved into the top spot in the conference’s scoring title chase after hitting 24 points in the Lobos’ 90-72 win over Nevada, staying on San Diego State’s heels in the conference standings.
Entering the game averaging 20.2 points per game, Bairstow now holds a 20.3 average. Nevada guard Deonte Burton held the scoring lead heading into the contest at 20.4, but the 12 points he scored dropped his mark to 20.1.
Bairstow in his postgame comments downplayed the accomplishment.
“It’s something I’ve never thought about,” he said. “Still, until you said it, I don’t think about that kind of stuff. I don’t know what he’s averaging; I’m not sure what I’m averaging. I just go out and play. It’s just numbers at the end of the day.”
The two teams meet again March 2 in Nevada.
Though Bairstow’s efforts helped lead UNM to a win, rebounding from Wednesday’s one-point setback at Boise State, he did not do it alone. His front court mate, center Alex Kirk, dropped 29 on Nevada to lead all scorers.
The duo dominated throughout, but particularly in the first half. Kirk and Bairstow combined for 23 points, one point less than the whole Nevada roster, heading into the locker room. For the game, the pair made 20 field goals in 30 attempts, while UNM’s other players were 12 of 28.
The Lobos were one point shy of having their first game with two 25-point scorers in 12 years.
UNM never trailed, and the game’s only tie came at 2 apiece in the first two minutes. The Lobos closed out the first 20 minutes with a 20-4 run to hold a 48-24 lead. Guard Cullen Neal kick-started the run with a 3-pointer; Kirk and Bairstow scored the rest of the points over a 5 1/2-minute span.
UNM controlled the paint in the first half, outscoring Nevada 48-24. That continued in the second half as UNM finished with a 42-24 margin down low.
“I think they kind of pressured the guards more,” Kirk said. “It felt like they kind of pressured them more and it wasn’t like they had that weak side clogging up the middle. When that weak side is in there you can’t really throw those high-low passes.”
While Bairstow and Kirk scored seemingly at will, Burton struggled in the first half with only one point. He turned it around in the second half with 11 points, including nine over the first 6:43 of the half. His field goal average also improved from 0-for-2 in the first half to 4-for-5 in the second.
The Lobos maintained a 15 to 24-point lead through the second half but gave up nine 3-pointers.
UNM distributed the ball quite a bit, providing 27 assists. In one first-half stretch the Lobos scored 14 straight baskets off assists. They also made 91 percent of their free throws, a 19 of 21 clip. Bairstow and Kirk made all six foul shots they took, and guard Hugh Greenwood made his four.
Cullen Neal joined the big men in double-digit scoring. He sank three 3-pointers, including one that resulted in a four-point play, for 10 points. UNM shot 55.2 percent from the field (32 of 58) and 43.8 percent from beyond the arc (7 of 16).
Forward Cole Huff and guard Michael Perez paced Nevada’s scorers with 18 points apiece. As a team Nevada was 42.9 percent from the field (27 of 63), 52.4 percent from the 3-point line (11 of 21) and 58.3 percent from the foul line (7 of 12).
Snell returns to The Pit
The team honored former Lobo and current Chicago Bulls guard Tony Snell prior to the game. Craig Neal presented Snell with a square piece of the old playing surface that was replaced prior to this season.
The crowd gave Snell a huge ovation when he stepped onto the floor before the game and chanted his name during the presentation.