LAS VEGAS — No. 20 New Mexico began its quest for a Mountain West tournament three-peat with a convincing 93-77 quarterfinal victory over Fresno State on Thursday night at the Thomas & Mack Center.
Senior forward Cameron Bairstow recorded his eighth double-double of the season, scoring 21 points and grabbing 10 rebounds, while senior center Alex Kirk also scored 21 points to go along with six rebounds for the second-seeded Lobos.
New Mexico (25-6) led wire-to-wire in winning for the 13th time in 15 games.
In Friday’s semifinals, the Lobos will face the winner of the Thursday night’s late quarterfinal between sixth-seeded Boise State and third-seeded Nevada.
Senior guard Kendall Williams added 17 points and nine assists for the Lobos, who shot 56.9 percent from the floor and led by as many as 19 points midway through the second half.
Senior guard Allen Huddleston scored 18 points, hitting three of five 3-point attempts, to leave the Bulldogs (17-16). Junior forward Alex Davis, the only Fresno State starter taller than 6-foot-7, added 17 points. Freshman guard Paul Watson (16) and sophomore guard Marvelle Harris (13) also scored in double figures for Fresno State, which shot 39.7 percent overall, 29.6 percent (8-for-27) on 3-pointers.
New Mexico dominated inside, finishing with a 40-25 rebounding edge and a 42-20 advantage in points in the paint.
The Lobos, trying to erase the bitter taste of a blowing a 16-point lead in the final 12 minutes of a Mountain West title-deciding 51-48 loss at San Diego State last Saturday, took advantage of their big size advantage in building a 49-35 halftime lead Thursday.
The 6-foot-9, 250-pound Bairstow (12) and the 7-foot Kirk (11) combined for 23 points and nine rebounds before halftime. The Lobos connected on 15 of their 28 first-half shots from the floor (53.6 percent).
Fresno State stayed close for a while, closing within 34-29 on a 3-pointer by center Tanner Giddings. However, the Lobos ended the half with a 15-6 run, capped by a 3-pointer by guard Cleveland Thomas at the buzzer.
NOTES: New Mexico brought a six-game Mountain West tournament winning streak into Thursday night’s quarterfinal. The Lobos won the last two Mountain West tourneys. The beat UNLV 63-56 in the 2013 final. … An estimated 6,000 New Mexico fans were in attendance for the game. Fans from Albuquerque, many of whom make the eight-hour drive to Las Vegas annually for the tournament, affectionately nicknamed the Thomas & Mack Center “Pit West.” … Fresno State began Mountain West play 1-7, including a 89-78 home loss to New Mexico in the only regular-season meeting between the two schools, before going 7-1 in its next eight games en route to a 9-9 finish. The Bulldogs rallied from 15 points down in the final 6:36 to edge No. 10 seed Air Force 61-59 Wednesday in the tournament’s first round.
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