Lobos open conference play against Colorado State

Updated: 01/04/2014 6:28 PM | Created: 01/04/2014 12:12 AM
By: Shaun Griswold,

New Mexico Lobos (9-3, 0-0) vs. Colorado State (9-5, 0-1)

Saturday, January 4, 2014 4:05 p.m. (MT)

The Pit (15,411), Albuquerque, NM

Radio - 770 KKOB, ESPN Deportes (1450 KRZY-AM and José 105.9-FM)

TV - ESPNU (DISH 141, DirectTV 208, Comcast 281)

The drive to three starts Saturday for the New Mexico Lobos.

New Mexico (9-3, 0-0) returns from a week and a half hiatus to host Colorado State in the Mountain West opener for the Lobos.

The keys to a third consecutive regular season Mountain West title will rest with New Mexico’s three upperclassmen - a trio used to setting the conference benchmark - Cameron Bairstow, Alex Kirk and Kendall Williams.

Bairstow’s presence has catapulted into star status and the Aussie is suddenly on the national radar after an impressive performance in the first half of the season. The senior forward has averaged 20.1 points and 7.2 rebounds per game.

His consistency and aggressiveness in the paint was thwarted just once, mostly due to foul trouble, in the Lobos 81-65 loss to UMass.

Bairstow’s rise has benefited nicely from opponents emphasis to stop center Alex Kirk.

The 7-footer opened the season with seven straight double double performances, including a 32 point effort in the UMass game.

Kirk caught time on the bench in several outings as teams forced him into foul trouble. In a win at New Mexico State, he played just 23 minutes. Several days later against Kansas he saw a meager 18 minutes of action.

When Kirk (15.2 ppg, 9.5 rpg) is on the court his defense is a vital component for New Mexico. If he stays out of foul trouble the Lobos are a difficult team to stop.

At the helm for the Lobos is senior guard Kendall Williams.

He went crazy against Colorado State in their last contest with 46 points, much of it off an eye raising 10 for 13 effort from the 3-point line. This season Williams (18.6 ppg) has been an efficient 50% field goal shooter and leads the Lobos in assists with 5.2 per game.

Point guard Hugh Greenwood will return to the lineup after missing three games due to injury.

In his place, freshman Cullen Neal has taken some growing pains but found his groove in wins against Marquette (24 points) and Grand Canyon (18 points, 7 assists).

Colorado State (9-5, 0-1) lost their first conference game at home against perennial Mountain West heavy San Diego State.

The Rams are led by junior forward J.J. Avila (19.2 ppg, 6.4 rpg) and guard Daniel Bejarano (14.4 ppg, 9.5 rpg).

Colorado State will hope the Lobos come into the game with some rust due to the layover and calm the 15,411 fans expected to pack the Pit with an early lead.

Then again, the Lobos have four conference titles in the last five years. That type of success, even under first year coach Craig Neal, does not languish during long periods of rest.

New Mexico is hungry, their big three will come out ready to feast on the Rams and anything else on the road to defend back-to-back conference titles.

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