New Mexico-Nevada Preview
A victory over Nevada last month began New Mexico’s latest run of success.
Looking to remain perfect against the Wolf Pack, the No. 25 Lobos try for a fifth consecutive victory in Sunday’s Mountain West Conference matchup.
New Mexico (22-5, 13-2) had its season-high six-game winning streak end with a 71-70 loss at Boise State on Feb. 12, but bounced back by shooting 55.2 percent during a 90-72 home victory over Nevada (13-15, 8-7) three days later.
Winners in 15 of 17, the Lobos followed that victory by taking each of the next three contests by at least nine points to continue their quest of winning a third straight Mountain West regular-season title.
"We’re in the hunt this year so we’ll see how that finishes out," said senior forward Cameron Bairstow, who averages a league-leading 20.2 points.
The Lobos don’t expect the final three games of the regular season to be easy, especially after they needed a 23-5 run to put away a pesky Utah State team they trailed by one at halftime of Tuesday’s 67-58 victory. Bairstow had 14 points with 11 rebounds and frontcourt mate Alex Kirk added 13 with 12 boards as New Mexico successfully concluded a stretch of three games in seven days.
"We came through unscathed and that’s the most important thing," said coach Craig Neal, whose team has four winning streaks of at least four games.
Though the 6-foot-9 Bairstow went 6 of 14 from the field and equaled his second-lowest scoring game of the season Tuesday, he’s averaged 8.8 boards in the last six contests – 1.5 more than his season average.
"He’s worked harder than anybody else," Kirk said of Bairstow, who averaged previous career bests of 9.7 points and 5.9 boards last season.
"Flat out, he’s worked harder than anybody in the country. Every coach is going to say, `Hey, this kid is the hardest worker in the country.’ But they’re lying. Cameron Bairstow is the hardest worker and he’s proving it right now."
Bairstow had 24 points and 11 rebounds last month to post his second straight double-double versus Nevada.
The Lobos held Wolf Pack senior guard Deonte Burton – second to Bairstow in the MWC at 19.9 points per game – to 12 and seven field goal attempts.
New Mexico has shot 53.7 percent while winning the previous three all-time meetings with Nevada by an average of 14.7 points. Burton has averaged 11.0 points in those games, and was held to eight during the Wolf Pack’s 75-62 home loss to the Lobos last season.
Nevada hopes to avoid a season-high third consecutive home defeat while trying to build on last Saturday’s 75-56 victory at Air Force that snapped its season-high five-game losing streak. Burton scored 21 while topping the 2,000-point mark at the school.
With losses to previously-ranked UCLA and then-No. 5 San Diego State by a combined 36 points this season, the Wolf Pack have dropped 14 straight against Top 25 opponents since beating then-No. 3 Gonzaga 91-72 in the second round of the 2004 NCAA tournament.