New Mexico Lobos Men’s Basketball – In The Pit
Saturday: New Mexico 63, Cincinnati 54
By Richard Stevens – Senior Writer/GoLobos.com.
It was New Mexico impressive – on defense, on offense. In controlling the tempo. In slowing down the Bearcats’ vicious attack of the glass.
In punching their record to 7-1 at the hands of the no-longer-undefeated Cincinnati Bearcats.
The New Mexico Lobos held Cincinnati to 26.7 percent shooting in the first half and 32.3 percent in the second half in pounding out a hard-fought 63-54 non-conference win over Cincinnati Saturday afternoon in The Pit.
“I thought that was what we were working for defensively,” said Lobo Coach Craig Neal. “I think that was the way we can guard. We had great tempo.”
The loss handed the Bearcats their first loss of the 2013-14 season. The Lobo also handed Cincinnati their first loss of the 2012-13 season a year ago on the Bearcats’ court.
“Really, really excited for my team,” said Neal. “I knew it would be a knockdown, drag out battle. I thought my team was really solid tonight. I thought we handled their pressure really, really well.
“I thought our guys answered the challenge and I thought we played well.”
One Lobo was extremely solid: Cameron Bairstow, whose family made the long voyage from Australia for the game. The 6-foot-9 Australian led all scorers with 24 points and led all board men with a career-high 13 rebounds.
Alex Kirk kicked in 15 points and six boards and Kendall Williams had 10 points, five rebounds, three steals and four assists.
“I really think Cameron Bairstow was outstanding,” said Neal. “He does everything he can to get better. I can’t think of another kid that’s we’ve had, maybe Daniel Farris, who has improved as much as Cam has in four years.”
The Lobos were pretty outstanding in their shooting, too. UNM shot 56.5 percent in the second half and 50 percent for the game. UNM went 16-of-25 from the free-throw line and 3-of-9 on 3-point shooting. Cincinnati was 4-of-16 from long range for a cool 25 percent.
UNM also won the glass battle 39-32.
“They are a good team. They are very, very aggressive,” said the 7-foot Kirk. “They will beat teams like that. For the most part, we kept them off the glass. For as how aggressive they are, I thought that was huge.”
The Lobos took control of the game early dashing to leads of 11-6, 17-8 and 20-10 on a 3-pointer by Cullen Neal. The Lobos held a 27-20 lead at the half.
Cincinnati cut UNM’s lead to 37-33 at the 14:35 mark of the second half, but could get no closer. UNM led by as many as 13 points. The Bearcat’s had several chances to shift momentum, but the athletic Bearcats could not hit enough jumpers.
“We got the lead and didn’t lose it,” said Coach Neal. “We wanted to slow the thing down and try to get it inside and pound it in the post.”
Said Bairstow: “We thought if we could get inside, we could hurt them. Today it was a Big East type of grind.”
A key bucket for UNM came at the 2:38 mark when Bairstow hit a quick turnaround jumper from about 18 feet out.
“When he hit that last jump shot, I was pretty impressed,” said Kirk.
Said Neal: “I thought Alex played really well. Kendall didn’t have the stats that he normally has, but he had to guard Kilpatrick and he did an unbelievable job. I’m really proud of how he kept his focus and his head.”
The Bearcats leading scorer is Sean Kilpatrick. He is the Bearcat that can hit jump shots and get his team back into a game. He had 19 points – not bad – but went 5-of-18 from the field and 1-of-7 from 3-point range. Cincinnati also got 11 points from Troy Caupain and 10 points from Justin Jackson.
The Bearcat’s starting trio of forwards combined to go 5-of-18 from the field as UNM outscored Cincinnati 34-24 in the paint. That Bairstow/Kirk combo was key to UNM’s win.
“As a team, I think we learned a lot. Two big wins,” said Kirk of the week that produced wins over New Mexico State and Cincinnati.
The win over Cincinnati accentuated a big week for the Lobos, who also beat New Mexico State in Las Cruces.
“It helps them to know they can play at a high, high level,” said Neal. “It’s up to these 14 guys how good they want to be.”
On Saturday afternoon in The Pit, Neal’s Lobos were very good – and very impressive.