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Lobos Shock Aztecs to Claim MW Tourney title

March 16, 2014
INDIANA SPORTS PAGE



NEW MEXICO BASKETBALL RELEASE

Lobo Coach Craig Neal has his first championship ring as New Mexico's head man. His New Mexico Lobos also have some Mountain West jewerly.

And senior Cameron Bairstow has a MVP trophy. 

“It was very special to me,” Neal said of his first title as a head coach. “I’ve told my guys that they’ll  always be my favorite team because they were my first team."

The 27-6 New Mexico Lobos defeated San Diego State 64-58 Saturday afternoon in the drama-packed championship game of the Mountain West Tournament to win the rubber match between the top two teams in the league. 

“The two best teams definitely were playing tonight,” said UNM's Alex Kirk.  “I hope San Diego State has a bunch of success going forward.”

UNM's Kendall Williams launched in a monster trey in the closing seconds to put the Lobos up 62-57 and UNM rode that basket to its third consecutive MW tournament title. 

“I have seen Williams make deep threes against a lot of people,” said SDSU Coach Steve Fisher.  “He has a lot of moxie.  It was a long, hard shot.  I was hoping that one wouldn’t go in.” 

Said Williams: “Sometimes you have to take those big-time shots."

It was a dramatic win for the Lobos, who were up 56-49 with 2:34 to play and down 57-56 about one minute later.  UNM rallied for the win and the title with Williams hitting his trey with 26 seconds to play and five seconds on the shot clock.  Lobo Cameron Bairstow set the stage for that dramatic bomb with a drive and a free throw that pushed UNM up 59-57. 

Williams and Kirk joined Bairstow on the MW All-Tournament team. 

The win hands the Lobos an automatic bid into the 2014 NCAA Championships.  UNM will learn its seed, opponent and game site on Sunday. The No. 10-ranked SDSU Aztecs (29-4) appear to be a lock for an at-large bid. 

The ending was a thriller as the Aztecs stormed back from that 56-49 deficit by packaging a follow shot and a Xavier Thames’ trey around an empty Lobo possession (shot-clock violation).  It was 56-54 with 1:26 to the finish line.  The swarming Aztecs got a quick steal on a UNM in-bounce play, a dunk, and a free throw. Amazingly, the Aztecs now had a 57-56 lead. 

But not for long.

It was the Lobos’ turn to strike a hard blow.  Bairstow finished on a drive and added a free throw.  The Lobos were up 59-57 with 1:15 to play.   SDSU’s Dwayne Polee had a nice look on a drive, but missed.  UNM then worked down the clock and Williams launched a long bomb over the outstretched hand of Polee.  The shot rolled in.

He's a great player and he hit a great shot," said Polee. "There was nothing I could do."

Bairstow mopped up the win with two free throws. 

 “We just didn’t quite have enough to finish,” said Fisher, who said his team’s next goal is to win their first-round NCAA game.  "We have a lot to look forward to. I would hope that we would be a top-four seed."


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