New Mexico was the preseason pick to win the Mountain West due in large part to the fact that they return four starters from the team that won the conference’s regular season and tournament titles last season. And two of those four starters are candidates for Mountain West Player of the Year, with point guard Kendall Williams looking to repeat while center Alex Kirk surprised many with how effective he was after sitting out all of 2011-12 due to a back injury.
Having two stars at one’s disposal is a great place for a first-year head coach (Craig Neal) to start, but if New Mexico’s to win another Mountain West title it will take more than just Kirk and Williams. And in their 73-66 win over a tough San Diego squad that tandem received some valuable help from senior forward Cameron Bairstow.
Williams, who went on a personal 8-0 run in the second half and shot 16-for-16 from the foul line, led the way with 28 points and Kirk added 21 to go along with 11 rebounds. But the 16 points supplied by Bairstow shouldn’t be overlooked either, as he scored 12 of those points in the second half. Bairstow made all four of his shots from the field and shot 4-for-5 from the charity stripe in the game’s final 20 minutes. Bairstow, who represented Australia in the World University Games, entered Saturday with averages of 19.6 points and 6.6 rebounds per game with the scoring average more than double his output from a season ago (9.7 ppg).
According to kenpom.com Bairstow’s possession percentage has increased by five percentage points (up to 28.1%) and thus far he’s been even more efficient than a season ago. Bairstow has an offensive rating of 130.7, which prior to Saturday’s action placed him first in the Mountain West by a sizable margin over Utah State’s Jarred Shaw (124.4). Bairstow isn’t going to put up the prolific numbers that we’ve come to expect from Williams and Kirk, with Kirk posting his sixth double-double in as many games on Saturday, but he’s certainly a player opponents will have to account for as the season wears on.
New Mexico certainly has areas they need to clean up, most notably their three-point shooting as they shot 5-for-20 against the Toreros and on the season are shooting a Mountain West-worst 31.4% from beyond the arc. The overall field goal percentage ranked seventh in the Mountain West, and the shooting seems to be an issue of simply knocking down shots as opposed to the quality of shots the Lobos are taking (third in the conference in offensive efficiency).
If they can clean those areas up and continue to get consistent offensive production from Bairstow, New Mexico will once again be tough to beat when conference play rolls around.
The injury Stephen Zimmerman suffered on Saturday will keep the star UNLV freshman out for at least a week, a source told NBC Sports.
The injury is not thought to be serious, however. Zimmerman may be kept out for longer as a precaution, but that’s a result of the Runnin’ Rebels being in a situation where the rest of their regular season is relatively meaningless.
They’re not getting an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament regardless of how they finish out league play. With back-up center Ben Carter out with a torn ACL, it’s more important to make sure that Zimmerman, who is averaging 10.6 points and 9.1 boards this season, is totally healthy for the Mountain West tournament.
That tournament, mind you, will be played at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center.
So the Runnin’ Rebels, regardless of how poor they’ve played this season, will always have a chance to land an automatic bid.
Anyway, the more interesting aspect of this story is how Zimmerman injured the knee. It was a completely avoidable play that came after the whistle, but I’m not sure it was what you would call a “dirty play”. You tell me:
With a little more than three minutes left on Monday night, No. 24 Texas held a 57-51 lead on No. 3 Oklahoma in Norman as Jordan Woodard struggled again and Buddy Hield failed to find the rhythm that he had throughout the first three months of the season.
At that point in the game, Hield was 4-for-14 from the floor with 15 points and four turnovers. He had just missed a pair of wide-open threes
“I couldn’t make a shot,” Hield said after the game. But that changed down the stretch. First, Hield finally got a three to drop. On the next possession, he got all the way to the rim and scored. On the following two possessions, he was fouled on a drive to the rim and hit four free throws. And after missing a pull-up jumper, Hield did this:
“I told coach I wanted the ball,” Hield said, “I saw Lammert coming to bite, so I pulled up.”
“It’s all money.”
Hield is already the favorite to win National Player of the Year, and this performance is only going to help his cause further. Think about it like this: Buddy was not good on Monday night, at least according to his (admittedly lofty) standards. But he still finished with 27 points and shook off a cold shooting night just in time to take over down the stretch.
Now think about this: Hield’s head coach has enough confidence in him to hand him the keys in the final minutes despite the fact that he’s struggling and on a team that has two other players that Lon Kruger trusts on game-winning possessions. Think about it. When Oklahoma beat West Virginia at the buzzer, it was Jordan Woodard that the play was drawn up for. When they beat LSU, it was Isaiah Cousins that got the rock on the final possession while Hield was used as a decoy. .
Want to talk about coaching luxuries?
Kruger has three guards that can shoot, penetrate and score, and penetrate and kick, and one of them is the National Player of the Year that doesn’t mind being used as a decoy.