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ALBUQUERQUE (AP) — When New Mexico post players Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow last saw San Diego State in the first meeting between the teams last month, they combined for two points and nine rebounds.
It was quite a different story Wednesday night for the Lobos’ frontcourt duo.
Kirk scored a season-high 25 points and Bairstow added 16 to help No. 14 New Mexico beat the Aztecs 70-60.
“They’re like anybody — when they don’t play well against somebody, you want to make up for that,” Lobos coach Steve Alford said. “They did not have very good games in San Diego and I think they really responded in this game.”
Kirk hit all three of his 3-point attempts and scored seven points during a 15-3 run early in the second half that pushed New Mexico’s lead to 48-33. He also had seven rebounds, three assists and three blocks for the Lobos (24-4, 11-2 Mountain West), who are one win from clinching the regular-season conference title.
Bairstow had five rebounds before fouling out. Nine of his points came late in the second half during a span of almost 5 minutes when he was the only New Mexico scorer.
He went 5 of 6 from the foul line, drove the lane for a dunk and added a short jumper to hold off San Diego State (20-8, 8-6), which had pulled to 52-46 with 7 minutes left.
“I think a big key was what our two bigs did,” Alford said.
San Diego State coach Steve Fisher said the Aztecs couldn’t cope with New Mexico’s defensive pressure and offensive execution.
“I know we didn’t guard very well, not like we have the last couple of games,” Fisher said. “A lot of that is on New Mexico. The team is very hard to guard. Our defense let us down.”
That, however, is what makes the Lobos such a successful team, Alford said.
“We’re hard to prepare for,” he said. “I think that’s what makes us a unique basketball team.”
New Mexico’s offense didn’t miss a beat even though leading scorer Kendall Williams, who had 46 points in his previous game, finished with just eight.
Williams contributed in other ways, though, dishing out eight assists and grabbing six rebounds.
“I thought Kendall was patient,” Alford said. “He didn’t come out and shoot bad shots. He was patient, had eight assists, did a lot of good things. It was just a tremendous team win for us.”
It didn’t help the Aztecs that Jamaal Franklin, who finished with 16 points and nine rebounds, went 3 of 13 from the field.
“We took a couple of shots that we’d like to have back,” Fisher acknowledged.
Alford credited Tony Snell with doing the job defensively on Franklin.
“That shows his maturation as a player,” Alford said of Snell.
Franklin is a “tremendous player, and to hold him to three field goals, that’s a key,” Alford said. “He just plays with an incredibly high motor.”
None of Franklin’s teammates reached double figures, though. Xavier Thames also shot 3 for 13 from the field and San Diego State finished 21 of 58 overall (36 percent), including 4 of 23 on 3-pointers.
Although San Diego State controlled the boards, grabbing 15 offensive rebounds to six for New Mexico, the Lobos had a big advantage at the free throw line, going 24 for 32 compared to 14 of 21 for the Aztecs.