ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) – It didn’t take New Mexico power forward Cameron Bairstow very long to realize he was in for a special game against Colorado State on Saturday.
“It was pretty early on,” he said after he scored the Lobos’ first seven points. “I just had a couple of quick drives to the hoop and I kind of went from there.”
He went from there and he went from here and he even went from the foul line repeatedly in equaling his career high with 29 points while grabbing a career-high 14 rebounds to help the Lobos to an 80-73 win in their Mountain West opener.
“I know we had no answer for him,” said Rams coach Larry Eustachy.
In addition to going 8-13 from the field, he also drew 14 fouls while going 13-20 from the line.
“I think he realizes he’s hard to cover,” said New Mexico coach Craig Neal. “That’s one thing that he’s done with his game. He’s expanded his game where he can put it on the floor and he can draw fouls.”
Behind Bairstow and guard Kendall Williams, who finished with 22 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, New Mexico (10-3, 1-0) built a 65-41 lead with 5:51 left.
But over the final stretch, Daniel Bejarano scored 13 of his career-high 22 points to spur the Rams (9-6, 0-2) into a furious comeback effort that fell just a bit short. Colorado State scored 25 points over that stretch, getting as close as 76-71 with 34.4 seconds left after a Bejarano 3-pointer.
“We can’t get up double-figure points and not extend it out and think we can just play with people and not guard,” Neal said. “We have to get better at that.”
It’s been a concern at times, Bairstow said.
“It’s definitely been a problem so far and a lot of its mental,” he said. “We have to stay mentally engaged and not zone out in the last eight minutes of the game when you’re up by 10. It’s something that we’ve been able to overcome so far but it’s something that we need to fix going forward because it could be a serious issue.”
And Colorado State is never a team to let down one’s guard against, Neal said.
“I like their team,” he said. “They play hard. I knew they were going to fight. Larry is a fighter. He’s always been a fighter. His teams are always tough, but I think my team has a lot of toughness also.”
Still, Neal said the Lobos have to gain a killer instinct when it has a team reeling.
“When you get up 13, that’s when you’ve got to put teams away,” he said. “And to win championships you’ve got to guard. We’ve always had a great defense. I thought we played excellent defense until that five-minute mark.”
– By GLEN ROSALES, Associated Press
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