Stevens: Lobos Smash Past Aztecs 60-50 & Into Mountain's Title Game

March 15, 2013

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New Mexico Lobos Men's Basketball -At The Mountain West Tournament
Las Vegas, Nevada -- Thomas & Mack Center
New Mexico 60, San Diego State 50
Lobos On The Air: 770-AM KKOB/Lobo Radio Network; CBS Sports Network (DISH 158, DirecTV 613, Comcast 274) GameTracker, Game Story, Statistics, Quotes, LoboTV

By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/

It was a statement the Lobos really didn't need to make. We already knew all this stuff. The class of the 2013 Mountain West once again rose high above the conference to stand on a level of their own making to look down upon a beaten opponent.

It's what the Lobos did most of the season and did again Friday night in the Las Vegas Thomas & Mack with a convincing 60-50 semifinal win over the San Diego State Aztecs.

The Lobos won this game by only 10 points, but really they coasted to this win going up 50-34 with ten minutes left to play. The Aztecs made a spirited run to pull to 55-46 at the 4:28 mark, but the Lobos 28th win was never in jeopardy.

There was simply too much Lobo balance, too much Lobo defense, too much Tony Snell and too much Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow inside.

Sure, it was a dominating performance by UNM, but is anything these 28-5 Lobos do really that surprising. They play defense. They play unselfishly. They have dynamic scorers inside and out. They rebound. They take care of the basketball. They have one of the best coaches in the nation.

And when they do all those basketball things well they beat a good team like San Diego State by double-digit points.

Snell led all scorers with 17 points going 5-of-8 from 3-point range. He tied a school record for the most treys in a conference tournament game. Snell exploded in the second half and likely broke the Aztecs' back with three consecutive treys that pushed UNM to a monster 43-22 lead.

However, there was a reason Snell found some open looks on the edge. The UNM Twin Tower combination of 6-foot-9 Cameron Bairstow and 7-foot Alex Kirk were having their way with the Aztecs' inside.

Bairstow threw out a double-double with 16 points and 11 boards. Kirk muscled for 15 points and nine boards.

The Lobos frustrated the Aztecs with a half-court defense that forced SDSU into a dismal 32.3 percent shooting. The Lobos weren't exactly red hot at 39.6 percent, but this is a championship team that leans on defense.

Second Half: New Mexico Lobos 31, San Diego State Aztecs 30

The Lobos came out of their halftime locker room up by nine and quickly went up 34-22 by working the ball inside. SDSU Coach Steve Fisher called for a team huddle.

His Aztecs needed to up their intensity or watch the Lobos grind their way into the MW title game. Aztec Jamaal Franklin carried three fouls into that huddle. He picked up his third charging into Bairstow on a drive at the 19:28 mark.

The Aztecs came out of the break and Chase Tapley missed a 15-footer. Snell came down and pounded in a bomb and then another longer bomb: 40-22. Fisher called for another timeout. His Aztecs were playing discouraged under the spell of an 11-2 Lobo run.

The Aztecs missed again - and Snell didn't. His third trey in a row buried the Aztecs in a 43-22 hole. It was getting ugly. Going back to the first half, UNM was on a 24-4 roll.

The Aztecs managed to toss out a 7-2 run to cut UNM's lead to 47-34. Alford called a timeout. His Lobos needed to tighten a few things up, including their perimeter defense. UNM came out of the huddle and got a big trey from Snell. It was 50-34 in UNM's favor as the teams closed in on the halfway mark of the second half. Snell's fifth trey tied a UNM conference tournament record.

Still, the Aztecs would not collapse. At the 4:28 mark, the Aztecs had cut UNM's lead to nine points - 55-46. Alford burned a timeout. His Lobos responded with better structure down the stretch and pulled in for the team's 28th win - and a spot in the MW championship game.

First Half: New Mexico Lobos 29, San Diego State Aztecs 20

The defense in the first half was outstanding by one team (Lobos) and pretty good by the other team (Aztecs). The Lobos shot only 33.3 percent from the floor, but put the defensive hammer down on SDSU holding the quick Aztecs to 26.7 percent shooting.

"Our half-court defense has been tremendous," Alford told the CBS cameras at the half. "If we can continue to guard like that I like our chances."

The Lobos also had a huge edge on the glass pulling down 25 rebounds to 15 for the Aztecs. UNM's Bairstow didn't exactly have a good half shooting (3-of-12), but he was active and tenacious inside and led all scorers with 10 points while hauling down eight boards.

The Aztecs were 8-of-30 from the floor and 2-of-10 from long range. UNM went 8-of-9 from the free-throw line. Alex Kirk had six points, three blocks and five boards. Williams had five boards and two assists.

The teams went at each other hard on defense with UNM drifting up 14-9 before the Aztecs closed to a 14-all tie. At the 7:33 break, a Snell trey on the baseline had the Lobos up 17-14.

UNM went up 19-14 when Bairstow found Adams alone underneath. The Lobos carried a 22-18 lead into the 3:54 media stop. Williams missed a quick trey trying to beat the shot clock and Bairstow cleaned up the garbage and added a free throw: 25-18.

Kirk scored UNM's final four points of the half - two on a field goal and two from the line.