San Diego State unable to contain big men for No. 14 New Mexico in 70-60 defeat

By the time he was done banging bodies all night with New Mexico big man Alex Kirk, San Diego State forward JJ O'Brien was wiped out.

It was easy to see why.

Kirk scored a season-high 25 points and frontcourt buddy Cameron Bairstow added 16 to help No. 14 New Mexico overpower the Aztecs 70-60 on Wednesday night.

"I was exhausted," O'Brien said. "Alex has like 40 pounds and 5 inches on me. I was trying my best and he uses his body well and he's a good player, so I was pretty tired."

The first time these teams played last month, Kirk and Bairstow combined for only two points and nine rebounds. It was quite a different story in this one.

"They're like anybody — when they don't play well against somebody, you want to make up for that," Lobos coach Steve Alford said. "They did not have very good games in San Diego and I think they really responded in this game."

Kirk hit all three of his 3-point attempts and scored seven points during a 15-3 run early in the second half that pushed New Mexico's lead to 48-33. He also had seven rebounds, three assists and three blocks for the Lobos (24-4, 11-2 Mountain West), who are one win from clinching the regular-season conference title.

"They played the inside-outside game very well," San Diego State coach Steve Fisher said. "It started with the first play of the game."

Bairstow had five rebounds before fouling out. Nine of his points came late in the second half during a span of almost 5 minutes when he was the only New Mexico scorer. He went 5 of 6 from the foul line, drove the lane for a dunk and added a short jumper to hold off San Diego State (20-8, 8-6), which had pulled to 52-46 with 7 minutes left.

But the Aztecs missed opportunities to get closer when Xavier Thames missed an open 3-pointer from the baseline and Franklin missing the front end of a 1-and-1.

"We had opportunities and we fought hard," Fisher said. "But we did miss one 3 in our corner with 2 or 3 minutes left in the game that if we could have made it, it would have been different. A lot of if, if, if. We also missed some timely free throws when we were trying to come back into it and you can't do that."

Fisher said the Aztecs couldn't cope with New Mexico's defensive pressure and offensive execution.

"We didn't guard as effectively as you have to when you play a team that is as good as they are," Fisher said. "It wasn't just their bigs, they created angles and got into gaps and made plays."

That, however, is what makes the Lobos such a successful team, Alford said.

"We're hard to prepare for," he said. "I think that's what makes us a unique basketball team."

New Mexico's offense didn't miss a beat even though leading scorer Kendall Williams, who had 46 points in his previous game, finished with just eight.

Williams contributed in other ways, though, dishing out eight assists and grabbing six rebounds.

"I thought Kendall was patient," Alford said. "He didn't come out and shoot bad shots. He was patient, had eight assists, did a lot of good things. It was just a tremendous team win for us."

It didn't help the Aztecs that Jamaal Franklin, who finished with 16 points and nine rebounds, went 3 of 13 from the field.

"We took a couple of shots that we'd like to have back," Fisher acknowledged. "New Mexico is a good team defensively. ... They guard hard and they guard well."

Alford credited Tony Snell with doing the job defensively on Franklin.

"That shows his maturation as a player," Alford said of Snell.

Franklin is a "tremendous player, and to hold him to three field goals, that's a key," Alford said. "He just plays with an incredibly high motor."

None of Franklin's teammates reached double figures, though. Xavier Thames also shot 3 for 13 from the field and San Diego State finished 21 of 58 overall (36 percent), including 4 of 23 on 3-pointers.

Although San Diego State controlled the boards, grabbing 15 offensive rebounds to six for New Mexico, the Lobos had a big advantage at the free throw line, going 24 for 32 compared to 14 of 21 for the Aztecs.

"I think a big key was what our two bigs did," Alford said.