Fresno State entered the Mountain West Championship tournament with momentum. The Bulldogs exited quickly after running into No. 20 New Mexico.
The seventh-seeded Bulldogs (17-16), after a 1-7 start to their conference schedule, entered Thursday night's quarterfinal game having won nine of their last 11 games while the second-seeded Lobos (25-6) came in even hotter after winning 12 of their last 14. So, Fresno State's late-season success was overshadowed by another hot team, as the Lobos claimed a 93-77 win over the Bulldogs.
"I don't think anything was different," Fresno State guard Allen Huddleston said. "We played and ran our stuff. We prepared for them. We approached the game in our usual way; the pre-game was the same, everything was the same. We just didn't execute on the defensive end and allowed them to get too many second-chance points.
"They got a few second-chance rebounds, and when you're down 13 or 10 it's really dicey because if you get that stop and you hit a three the game will be down to 10 or seven as opposed you don't get that stop and they get a basket, and the game is now up to 15 or 13. It's a big difference and we just didn't execute in that area."
Huddleston, however, executed well for the Bulldogs, as he came off the bench to lead the team with 18 points and two steals in 23 minutes.
"It's a 40-minute game, so we knew we had to work the game for 40 minutes," Huddleston said. "Being down early on, we didn't hit the panic button. That's something you never want to do. We just kept fighting and kept fighting and kept fighting, but it just didn't work out for us."
The Bulldogs had no answer for Cameron Bairstow or Alex Kirk. Bairstow had 21 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks while Kirk also had 21 points.
"We knew that regardless of how they're going to match up with us, whether the four-man takes Alex, the five man takes me, or vice versa, there was going to be a mismatch down there," said Bairstow, who had his 10th-career double-double. "I think we exploited it for the most part throughout the game. We really did a good job of I think handling the trap in most situations, which a lot of teams have been doing against us. It's different than what we're used to. I think we managed to handle it pretty well."
New Mexico (25-6) used an aggressive defense, dominated the boards and capitalized on the Bulldogs' mistakes to build a 16-point lead.
"I tried to make sure our guys understood the importance of tonight's game," Craig Neal said. "When you get in a tournament of this caliber, this magnitude, every game's a championship game. The unique thing about our team is we've seen every imaginable defense you can see. If it's trapping from big to big, trapping from the guard at the top, trapping from the passer, if we get pressed. We've seen about every press there's been played in college basketball.
"I think our guys have really responded, been really resilient on seeing different looks, responding, making the right plays."
Kendall Williams chipped in with 17 points, nine assists and six rebounds for New Mexico.
The Lobos, who won the first meeting in similar fashion, 89-78 on Jan. 18, shot 57 percent from the field — including 61 percent in the second half. The Bulldogs struggled from the field, shooting just 40 percent (25 of 63).