ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Although New Mexico power forward Cameron Bairstow stands 6-9, he’s not exactly a terror on the glass.
But in the four previous games this season that he reached double-digit rebounds, the Lobos have won.
They made it five-for-five with a 66-61 overtime victory over Wyoming as Bairstow had 23 points and 11 rebounds.
His work on the boards set the tone for his teammates as the Lobos (18-4, 9-1 Mountain West) dominated the rebounds 43-22, including an overwhelming 16-4 advantage on the offensive side.
“When you miss a lot of easy shots, you’re going to get your own rebounds a lot,” New Mexico coach Craig Neal said.
It’s not exactly the blueprint he envisioned before the game.
“Coming into the game, I wasn’t suspecting that, but it’s a good thing that we did,” he said.
That helped New Mexico to a 17-2 edge on second-chance points, which proved to be the difference in the game.
Lobos center Alex Kirk grabbed 10 rebounds to go along with his 15 points – 13 in the second half – as the New Mexico frontcourt nearly equaled the entire Cowboys team.
“Their four (Bairstow) is taller than anybody on our team,” said Wyoming forward Larry Nance Jr. “And their five (Kirk) is even taller.
It’s a battle. We gave it our all and unfortunately we came up short yet again.”
New Mexico won the teams’ first meeting this season in overtime, as well.
Wyoming (14-8, 5-4), had a chance to win this one in regulation, but Nance, who finished with 10 points, four blocks and three steals, couldn’t sink a fadeaway jumper over Kirk with 1 second left.
“That’s our go-to play to win the game and I got good enough separation on Kirk,” Nance said. “I knew I could beat him on foot. The shot just didn’t drop. Maybe an inch shorter and we would have won that game.”
Instead, New Mexico won its sixth straight over a Cowboys squad without head coach Larry Shyatt, who was ill, and second-leading scorer Josh Adams, who was suspended.
“I told them before we went out that Adams isn’t playing, their head coach isn’t here,” Neal said. “This isn’t going to be a walk in the park. You’re going to have to come out and play and I don’t know how serious they took it.”
When it came time to get it done, however, the Lobos were able to step to the fore as Bairstow knocked the game-tying shot with 35 seconds left, then scored four in overtime.
“They started playing,” Neal said. “They’ve got a really, really great sense of winning. When it’s winning time and making winning plays, and buckling down. They’re a unique group that I’m glad to be a part of because they know how to win games.”