No. 14 Lobos avenge loss, defeat Aztecs 70-60

Typically fans hold their breath when center Alex Kirk of the New Mexico Lobos takes a three-point attempt. The Pit held its collective breath when Kirk took his last trey with 1:32 left in UNM's pivotal game against the San Diego State Wednesday night then exploded in delight when he buried the shot and the Lobos went on to defeat the visiting Aztecs 70-60 before a sold out crowd of 15,414.

Kirk scored season-high 25 points on 8 of 12 shooting and made a career-high 3 three pointers and forward Cameron Bairstow added 16 points and five rebound as the duo combined to score 41 of UNM's 70s points to lead No. 14 New Mexico to the precipice of a Mountain West Conference regular season title.

"I think Alex has been very consistent for us all year," said head coach Steve Alford of Kirk, who added seven rebounds had three assists and had three blocks. "I think he got some confidence going against a really good center and doing so well in that game. He and Cameron Bairstow, they are like anybody. When you don't play well against somebody, you want to make up for that. They didn't have very good games in San Diego. I thought they really responded well in this game."

Taking advantage of their match-up edge with Kirk and Bairstow in the starting line-up, the Lobos went inside immediately from the opening tip and opened a 5-2 lead early.

But San Diego St. clawed back and the rest of the two teams battled back and forth through the first half and UNM took a slim 28-26 lead.

The two teams looked as thought they would continue their tight slugfest until the Lobos went on a 15-3 run started by a pair of Kirk free throws and punctuated by a Chad Adams dunk. Said dunk sent The already loud Pit crowd into cacophonous delight and seemed to signal that beginning of the end for the Aztecs with the score 48-33 with 12:06 left in the game.

But SDSU came out of the timeout after Adams' slam and scored immediately and produced a 21-6 surge that cut the Lobo lead to 54-49 with 4:34 left in the game.

But the Aztecs would get no closer as UNM countered with a another run to take the lad out to 64-53 on Kirk's thunderous trey.

SDSU was reduced to fouling the rest of the way and UNM hit 6 of 8 free throws to ice the game.

"We had a terrific crowd," said head coach Steve Alford. "I thought our guys played hard for 40 minutes. Our bigs were just dominant. That is what is fun about this team."

Alex Kirk said one of the keys Wednesday night was playing as a team and having fun.

"That was a fun game with a fun atmosphere," said Kirk. "I can't express enough how fun the atmosphere was there. We had fun and played hard as a team. We have done that in some big games all season. When we all come together, have fun and relax we are a really good basketball team."

UNM held SDSU to just 33.3% shooting in the second half (11 of 33) and 17% shooting on three pointers for the game (4 of 23) while shooting 60% (12 of 20) in the pivotal second half.

New Mexico finished with 47% shooting (21 of 44) and 75% free throw shooting (24 of 32) and just nine turnovers – a big change from their loss at San Diego St, early in conference play, The Aztecs won the rebounding battle 36 to 30 and benefited, converting 15 offensive rebounds into 17 second chance points. But SDSU's overall shooting woes and lack of production from its guards, who shot a combined 11 of 39 from the field, doomed the team.

Franklin was the only Aztec to finish with scoring in double figures, getting 16 points on 3 of 13 shooting, including 1 of 7 on three-pointers. He also led SDSU (20-8, 8-6 MWC) in rebounds with nine.

New Mexico moves to 24-4 and 11-2 in Mountain West play and can clinch at least a tie for the MWC regular season title Saturday with a win over visiting Wyoming in The Pit.

The game is Senior Night for Adams and guard Jamal Fenton, which is extra motivation said Kirk.

"We already talked about this as a team and we need to put our mark and clinch the title," said Kirk. "We owe that to our fans who have been so good to us this season. We are trying to go out and do that Saturday.

"Winning the title will be the best way (to send out the Seniors,)" said Kirk. "They deserve it. They have worked hard and have had great career. They are two of the winningest Lobos. Jamal and Chad deserve that and that is our goal."


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