Tag: Kendall Williams


Mountain West Tournament: No. 20 New Mexico wins rubber match, third straight tournament title

1 Comment

One week ago No. 20 New Mexico wilted in the face of No. 8 San Diego State’s 1-3-1 trap, failing to make a field goal over the final 12 minutes of their 51-48 defeat. And in the early stages of the second half in the Mountain West title game it looked as if that would once again be the case, with the Aztecs using a 1-2-1-1 full-court press to force the Lobos into becoming stagnant and committing multiple turnovers.

But the Lobos would regain their poise, and a Kendall Williams dagger from 25 feet out with 26 seconds remaining sealed the 64-58 victory and a third consecutive Mountain West tournament title for the Lobos.

The Lobos managed to win despite turning the ball over 15 times, which resulted in 21 San Diego State points. Two of the reasons why: their half-court defense and a nine-point advantage at the foul line. New Mexico limited San Diego State to 35.7% shooting from the field, and leading scorer Xavier Thames scored his 15 points on 6-for-16 shooting before fouling out with 13 seconds remaining.

MOREUCLA upsets Arizona in the Pac-12 title game

New Mexico’s big men weren’t as dominant as they were a week ago in San Diego, but both Cameron Bairstow and Alex Kirk did their part in Las Vegas. Bairstow, the tournament MVP, scored 17 points and grabbed nine rebounds with Kirk adding eight points and 11 rebounds. But once again New Mexico had issues with San Diego State’s active defenders, and the role players were the ones who stepped up in the second half.

Hugh Greenwood (12 points), Deshawn Delaney (seven points, five rebounds) and Cullen Neal (a key four-point play that also resulted in Thames’ fourth foul with 11:03 remaking) all made key plays in the second half, supplementing the efforts of Williams and Bairstow (17 points, nine rebounds). That difference kept New Mexico from wilting in the face of the SDSU pressure as they did a week ago, setting the stage for Williams’ epic three-pointer as the shot clock expired.

MORE: Just how good is Louisville this season?

This will be key for New Mexico moving forward, because as good as their three leaders are the Lobos will need those contributions if they’re to advance in the NCAA tournament. New Mexico will also need to improve their handling of pressure whether it’s in the half or full-court, because that’s something they’ll likely have to deal with at some point.

But if anything Craig Neal saw important progress made by his team in Las Vegas. Instead of folding the Lobos answered the challenge and landed the critical blow, winning yet another Mountain West tournament crown as a result.

Improved offensive execution keeps No. 25 New Mexico tied atop Mountain West

Leave a comment

Fifteen days ago No. 25 New Mexico blew out Nevada in Albuquerque, shooting 55.2% from the field and assisting on 27 of their 32 made field goals in the 90-72 victory. And considering just how well Craig Neal’s team played for much of that game, it can be argued that the final margin was a bit deceiving.

That outcome served as motivation for Nevada, and for much of the first half the Wolf Pack controlled the rematch. But New Mexico would improve its execution and shot selection, erasing a 14-point first half deficit and winning 72-58 in Reno.

The Lobos settled for perimeter shots in the first half, making just one of the nine attempts from beyond the arc and not committing to going inside. It was clear what New Mexico needed to do in order to get back into the game and to their credit they passed up the jumpers in favor of attacking the basket, ripping off a 10-0 run to end the first half with eight of the points coming in the paint. The other two points came courtesy of two Cameron Bairstow free throws.

That would continue in the second half as the Lobos shot 57.7% from the field, and their improved shooting from deep (5-for-11) was a product of their commitment to getting the ball inside. Bairstow scored 14 of his 22 points in the second half to lead the way, with Alex Kirk (ten points, 11 rebounds) and Kendall Williams (11 points, ten assists) both posting double-doubles for the Lobos. And with those ten assists, Williams became the Mountain West’s all-time assists leader.

Those three veterans are expected to lead the way, and for much of this season they haven’t disappointed in that regard. However against Nevada reserves Cullen Neal and Cleveland “Pancake” Thomas were just as important, contributing 15 points in the second half. And with neither Deshawn Delaney nor Hugh Greenwood being consistent threats to score in double figures, the contributions of Neal and Thomas will be key moving forward for New Mexico.

With the win the Lobos remain in a first-place tie with San Diego State with two games remaining, the latter of which being a showdown at Viejas Arena on Saturday. And if New Mexico executes as they did over the final 24 minutes of Sunday’s win, there’s no doubt that Craig Neal’s team can win the Mountain West outright.

New Mexico makes statement in win over No. 6 San Diego State

Leave a comment

In a season that has seen the Mountain West as a whole not perform as well as in recent years, No. 6 San Diego State emerged as the best team in the conference. With a resume that includes a win at Kansas, the Aztecs looked to be the class of the conference entering their game at New Mexico on Saturday night. The Lobos were the preseason favorite to win the Mountain West, and their improved play on the defensive end of the floor is one reason why Craig Neal’s team was just a game back in the standings.

That defensive effort was on full display at The Pit, with New Mexico limiting San Diego State to 32.3% shooting from the field as they won 58-44. Xavier Thames is San Diego State’s best offensive player and New Mexico made life difficult for the senior guard, limiting him to just seven points on 3-for-15 shooting. And when Thames struggles, San Diego State is going to have problems offensively.

Two areas in which San Diego State has been able to hurt opponents throughout conference play are on the offensive boards and in their ability to get to the foul line. Steve Fisher’s team normally does a good job of attacking the paint, with Thames, J.J. O’Brien and Winston Shepard III all being capable dribble penetrators. New Mexico took that away, and it didn’t help matters that Mountain West’s top team in regards to free throw rate attempted just three free throws (missing all three) on the night.

San Diego State did manage to rebound 37% of its missed shots, but they converted those extra opportunities into just 14 second-chance points. For a team that isn’t particularly adept at knocking down perimeter shots those areas are critical, and the Lobos did an excellent job of preventing the Aztecs from taking advantage. The perimeter defenders moved well laterally, and center Alex Kirk did a very good job of blocking (five blocked shots) and changing shots around the basket.

New Mexico limited San Diego State to 0.75 points per possession, with the effort surpassing their performance in a home win over San Jose State (0.78) as the Lobos’ best in conference play. And with all due respect to the Spartans, clamping down on San Diego State is a far more impressive feat.

Offensively New Mexico shot 50% from the field, and once again senior forward Cameron Bairstow led the way. The Australian scored 26 points on 11-for-18 shooting to go along with nine rebounds, and in a game that featured two other Mountain West Player of the Year hopefuls (Thames and UNM’s Kendall Williams) Bairstow may have vaulted himself to the top of the list.

Who will win Player of the Year? Which team will win the Mountain West regular season title? That remains to be seen, and it’s likely that the rematch at Viejas Arena on March 8 will determine both answers. In the first meeting this season between the Aztecs and Lobos, it was Craig Neal’s team that made the emphatic statement.