Las Vegas, NV (SportsNetwork.com) - Cameron Bairstow scored 17 points and sparked a late 8-0 run that lifted 20th-ranked New Mexico to a thrilling 64-58 victory over No. 8 San Diego State and a third consecutive Mountain West Tournament title.
Bairstow was fouled while driving the lane and converted a layup with 1:15 remaining, then hit the subsequent bonus shot to give the Lobos a 59-57 lead. Kendall Williams followed with a deep 3-pointer before Bairstow sealed the automatic NCAA bid by sinking two more free throws with 13 seconds left.
The Lobos (27-6) overcame 11 second-half turnovers by outproducing the Aztecs at the foul line, making good on 22-of-27 attempts from the stripe compared to a 13-of-22 success rate for San Diego State. Bairstow finished 11-of-14 from the line in addition to pulling down nine rebounds.
Williams added 16 points and Hugh Greenwood scored 12 with five assists to help New Mexico avenge a 51-48 road loss to the Aztecs last Saturday that gave San Diego State the league's outright regular-season crown.
MWC Player of the Year Xavier Thames netted 15 points for San Diego State (29-4), but was held to a 6-of-16 shooting night. The Aztecs shot just 35.7 percent as a team for the game.
"We just didn't knock down shots," said Thames. "[New Mexico] did a good job on defense as well."
Trailing for much of the game's final 10 minutes, the Aztecs set up the exciting finish by putting forth an 8-0 run that erased a seven-point deficit with under 2 1/2 minutes to play. Thames buried a 3-pointer after dribbling off a screen to cut the Lobos' lead to 56-54, and Dwayne Polee stole the ensuing inbounds pass before throwing down a putback dunk while being fouled with 1:21 left.
His subsequent free throw had San Diego State back up by one, but Bairstow charged into the paint on the following possession and drew contact while putting home a runner, giving New Mexico a 59-57 edge after completing the three-point play.
After Polee couldn't finish a layup on the other end, Williams delivered the dagger -- a step-back jumper well beyond the 3-point line with 26 seconds to go.
"I pass a lot. Sometimes you got to take those big-time shots," Williams said.
Thames then misfired on a 3-point try prior to Bairstow knocking down two more foul shots that sealed the outcome.
"We competed from wire to wire, and we just didn't quite have enough to finish," Aztecs head coach Steve Fisher remarked. "But if we continue to play that way, we'll have a chance to be playing after the first weekend of the NCAA tournament. That's our goal now."
The Aztecs' inability to make shots had them in a 27-22 hole at the half, but they used their trademark tight defense to reverse the momentum during the early stages of the second period.
San Diego State opened the frame on an 8-0 spurt, getting six of those points off four New Mexico turnovers, to claim a 30-27 advantage. The Lobos quickly tied it, and the contest remained nip-and-tuck until an 11-2 surge by New Mexico began to create some distance.
The Lobos were down by three prior to the run, which was highlighted by a Williams' three-point play that had New Mexico ahead by a 47-43 count with 6:38 remaining. Two free throws from Greenwood capped the flurry and extended the margin to six.
"I knew we would come out of it," said Lobos head coach Craig Neal. "I knew our guys were able to handle it. We started making better plays. The kids stayed with what we were trying to do."
Polee drained a triple with 5:48 left to bring the Aztecs within 49-46, but Greenwood answered with a trey just under a minute later.
The first half resembled more of the defensive slugfest that characterized the two regular-season meetings, where neither winner scored more than 58 points.
Both teams shot under 30 percent over the opening 12 minutes, with the Lobos clinging to a 14-13 edge at the time. The remainder of the period saw four lead changes and three ties until New Mexico finished it out strong.
The Lobos went back ahead on Bairstow's putback with 1:42 left, and Alex Kirk followed with a jumper before Williams drew a foul while driving with less than a second on the clock. He sank both free throws to send New Mexico into the locker room owning a 27-22 advantage.
New Mexico became the first program in the 15-year existence of the Mountain West to capture three straight tournament titles ... The championship was the Lobos' fourth overall, tying them with San Diego State for the most in conference history ... Thames fouled out with 13.2 seconds left, only the senior's second career disqualification ... Kirk had a game-high 11 rebounds along with eight points, including the 1,000th of his career on his first basket of the game ... San Diego State recorded 21 points off the Lobos' 15 turnovers ... New Mexico improved to 4-1 all-time in MWC tourney finals, while the Aztecs fell to 4-3.