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LAS VEGAS, Nev. — A statement game was tossed out Thursday in the Thomas & Mack Center by the two teams that made statements throughout the season.
The No. 2 seed University of New Mexico Lobos charged into the Mountain West Tournament semifinals with a 93-77 win over Fresno State, Thursday night.
Also Thursday, San Diego State, the MW regular season champion, mauled Utah State 73-39.
The Lobos advance to play Boise State, which beat Nevada 75-62. The Broncos are one of three teams to beat UNM in the regular season with their 71-70 win in Boise Feb. 12.
The Aztecs, meawhile, will try to knock off the home team, UNLV, a 71-67 winner over Wyoming.
The Thomas & Mack definitely will be rocking on Friday as the Rebels should draw a good crowd for their upset bid against the Aztecs. The venue was already was rocking Thursday night as Cameron Bairstow and Alex Kirk both scored 21 points to pace the quarterfinal win.
“Our two big guys are hard to guard, hard to play,” said Lobo head coach Craig Neal. “We made a concerted effort to go inside tonight. I really didn’t do anything different. I usually don’t wave a magic wand. We were fortunate that Cam and Alex had good nights. We can play a lot of different ways. We really didn’t change much.”
The Bulldogs’ strategy wasn’t a bad one either: drive to the rim, finish or get fouled, kick out for the trey.
The Bulldogs did well getting to the line and OK once they got there, going 19 of 28, but they bombed on their bombs, hitting just 8 of 27.
“They have a lot of weapons,” Neal said. “We are playing at a good level. We have to tweak some things on defense, but it’s a big deal to win our first tournament game. They (Fresno) have talent and they don’t stop. I told our guys if they go into this game and think they are going to walk through the first round that they are wrong.”
The Lobos got to the line, too, but they also got the ball inside to Bairstow and Kirk. The Lobos’ Twin Towers combined for 42 points, 16 rebounds and four blocked shots.
“Those two guys are very good. They played great and we knew they would,” said Fresno State’s Alex Davis of Kirk and Bairstow.
Also for UNM, Kendall Williams had a solid all-around game with 17 points, six rebounds and nine assists.
UNM shot a sizzling 56.9 percent from the floor with 42 points coming in the paint.
“We played one of the better teams in the country today,” said Fresno State Coach Rodney Terry. “They are a hard team to beat. I think they have all the ingredients to be a Sweet 16-type team. Against a team like this, you have to make shots and we didn’t do that. You have to do something to neutralize that two-headed monster they have. They (New Mexico) played to their strengths and they played well.”
Bairstow finished with a double-double adding 10 rebounds. Kirk had six boards and Hugh Greenwood chipped in 8 boards along with 3 assists.
If there was a sealer on this win, it came at the 4:20 mark when Cleveland Thomas drove, scored and added a free throw for an 82-65 cushion. UNM coasted in for its semifinal berth.
“We aren’t going to settle for a good win tonight,” said Williams. “We want to win this championship and then go from there.”
The win pushed UNM to 25-6 on the season.