Around the Rim: Nevada at New Mexico
New Mexico Forward Cameron Bairstow
Coming into the year, Mountain West Conference coaches and players alike knew the frontcourt duo of Alex Birk and Bairstow were going to be hard to handle. Kirk has remained steady from last year increasing his points per game average from 12.1 last year to 14.0 this year and increasing his rebounding per game from 8.1 to 8.7. Bairstow on the other hand has exploded. Last year he only averaged 9.7ppg and 5.9rpg, but has increased those totals this year to 20.2 and 7.0 while shooting 56% from the field. Bairstow, the 6-9 senior from Australia, is an old-fashioned power forward who does all his damage primarily in the paint and from the free throw line. Against Nevada Bairstow will have a very friendly matchup against Nevada forward Cole Huff. The Lobo forward will have a height, one inch, and weight, 30 pound, advantage over the undersized Nevada forward. This will lead to Huff primarily fronting Bairstow in the paint, basically attempting to deny him the ball at all times. If the Lobos can get the ball into Bairstow, the teams leading scorer, there is a good chance he will score or get to the line. Nevada must limit Bairstow to have a chance to win.
New Mexico Guard Cullen Neal
Like Nevada, New Mexico gets almost all of its production from the starting five and scoring off the bench is hard to come by. But the Lobos do have Neal, the coach's son, who is averaging 7.7 points off the bench. The freshman takes over half his shots from behind the arc so running him off the line is important. For Nevada fans, Cullen's role is comparable to Nevada guard Marqueze Coleman's. Come off the bench and provide some sort of spark. In the Lobo's five losses this year, Cullen has only averaged 3.2 points per game, well below his season average. By limiting Cullen, you put pressure on the starters to carry too much of the load with little or no help from the bench. If Nevada can win the battle off the bench, basically Cullen vs. Coleman, the Wolf Pack may be able to escape the Pit with a victory.
Nevada Center A.J. West
The Lobos are the 41st best rebounding team in the nation. The Wolf Pack in its last game against a below average rebounding Fresno State team got out outrebounded. For Nevada, West has been great on the offense boards, often creating extra opportunities for the team and himself. But West has not been as big of a force on the defensive class, limiting other teams extra offensive opportunities. When facing the Lobos and the big man combo of Kirk and Bairstow, West will need to limit New Mexico's chances. It's not a one-man show, but West is the key. One last thing to ask for from AJ: make a free throw.