New Mexico coach Craig Neal wasn't about to let his team slip up in the Mountain West Conference quarterfinals.
Despite getting into early foul trouble, Lobos star Cameron Bairstow had 21 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks to lead No. 20 New Mexico to a 93-77 win over Fresno State on Thursday night.
Using an aggressive defense, dominating the boards and capitalizing on the Bulldogs' mistakes, the second-seeded Lobos built a 16-point lead and extended it to as many as 19 in the second half.
New Mexico (25-6) outrebounded the seventh-seeded Bulldogs 40-25, and outscored Fresno in the paint, 42-20. The Lobos never trailed after opening the game on a 14-3 run.
"I tried to make sure our guys understood the importance of tonight's game," 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."
Bairstow's 7-foot frontcourt-mate Alex Kirk also had 21 points, while Kendall Williams chipped in with 17 points, nine assists and six rebounds.
"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."
Fresno State (17-16) had four players score in double figures, led by Allen Huddleston's 18 points. Alex Davis had 17 points, Paul Watson contributed with 16 and Marvelle Harris added 13.
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)
"We played I think one of the better teams in the country today," Fresno State coach Rodney Terry said. "The way they played today in terms of the way they came out with the mindset to start the ballgame, they got off to a really good start. Again, when they're playing at that level between the two big guys inside, you throw Kendall Williams in there who has been one of the better players in our league, Player of the Year at one point in his career - they're a hard team to beat."
After the Bulldogs came within six, the teams traded baskets until the Lobos used a 15-7 run to close the half and extend their lead to 49-35.
"I thought we had excellent leadership tonight," Neal said. "Really proud of the two-headed monster, Bairstow and Kirk. They're as good as anybody in the country in the paint. I thought Kendall Williams did an outstanding job controlling tempo and guarding Tyler Johnson. He's always done a great job on him and held him to two points, which was key tonight. It's like I told the guys, we win and advance. We're looking forward to the next matchup.
New Mexico, which is now 7-0 all-time as the No. 2 seed in the Mountain West tournament, will face the winner of Thursday's late game between Nevada and Boise State, in a Friday semifinal.