ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico's strategy was simple against No. 6 San Diego State: Get the ball to Cameron Bairstow.
Bairstow scored 26 points on a series of jumpers, dunks and layups to lead the Lobos to a 58-44 victory over the Aztecs on Saturday night.
"I said it before and I said it on national TV, I've got the best power forward in the country playing for us in Cam Bairstow," New Mexico coach Craig Neal said.
After failing to score above 20 points before this season, the senior Bairstow topped 20 for the 16th time this campaign.
"Bairstow had his way," Aztecs coach Steve Fisher said. "He's 11 for 18, 26 points. He's good. I'm up trying to beg for a call.
'Swimming in the post, swimming in the post.' And I could've gone swimming myself. He was just getting the ball and scoring with it."
San Diego State (23-3, 12-2 Mountain West) entered the game hoping to deny Bairstow the ball. The strategy was unsuccessful.
"We were just trying not to let him catch it deep," Aztecs forward J.J. O'Brien said. "Not give him easy buckets. He likes to duck in, use his strength and get easy buckets. We were going to try and keep him out of the paint as well as we could."
However, Bairstow had his way all game, scoring 10 in the first half then leading a second-half charge that stymied San Diego State.
After the Aztecs opened the second half with a basket, New Mexico (21-5, 12-2) hammered out a 21-2 run over a span of almost 9 minutes to take a 50-26 lead. Bairstow started the run with two baskets, and ended up with 10 in the surge.
"I just felt good with it," Bairstow said in explaining his success. "Looking at the scoreboard, I couldn't believe we were up 20. Obviously I was expecting a lot closer game."
It was a game that the Lobos were determined to have, he said.
"We knew what was on the line and what the game meant to us," Bairstow said. "We wanted to get out to a quick start and we managed to do that. It's not like this is a signature win that's going to win the conference. But it is one which puts us even with San Diego State."
Neal credited the team's defensive effort, particularly on Aztecs leading scorer Xavier Thames, who averages 17 but shot 3 of 15 and finished with seven points. Winston Shepard led San Diego State's effort with 10 points.
"I thought the difference was our defense," Neal said. "We wanted to give them space. We wanted them to make jump shots over us. We no-helped Thames. So if he was on ballside or anywhere by the ball, we didn't want him to get it back. So I thought that was a big key to our game."