Big men Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow have been productive while starting the last four games together for New Mexico. That's bad news for a Fresno State team that is struggling in its first season in the Mountain West and will be missing a 7-footer.
The No. 19 Lobos routed the Bulldogs last month and will be favored in Wednesday night's rematch in Fresno.New Mexico coach Steve Alford moved the 6-9 Bairstow back into the lineup alongside the 7-foot Kirk before a 63-59 victory at Wyoming on Jan. 30. The duo has averaged 24.5 points and 14.0 rebounds over a 3-1 stretch since the change, with Kirk shooting 60.0 percent and Bairstow 50.0 in those games.Prior to these four contests, the last time Kirk and Bairstow started together was a 72-45 home victory over Fresno State (8-14, 2-7) on Jan. 12. They combined for 35 points and 19 boards."They're really good, two physical post guys who not only have attacked us but have attacked the whole league," Bulldogs coach Rodney Terry said. "They're really tough together."Fresno State had the 7-foot Robert Upshaw available for that game, but the freshman will miss a third straight contest due to suspension Wednesday.New Mexico (20-4, 7-2) held a 43-25 advantage on the boards in that contest. Rebounding was an area of concern after the Lobos graduated the MWC's top rebounder last season in Drew Gordon, but Kirk has come back strong after missing 2011-12 due to a herniated disc."Having Alex Kirk come back off of an injury that set him out for a year, we just had a lot of question marks when it came to board play and I think we've been pretty consistent with our rebounding," Alford said.Fresno State ranks last in the conference in scoring (60.1 points per game), field-goal percentage (39.2) and rebound margin (minus-5.5).That last deficiency concerns Terry the most for this matchup, although 6-9 Bulldogs freshman Braeden Anderson finally became eligible in last Wednesday's 64-55 victory over UNLV. He had 12 points and six boards in a 75-53 loss at San Diego State on Saturday."Braeden Anderson is now playing for us, who is also a freshman who's got a chance to get some valuable experience over the last two games and will be a guy who gets a chance to play some significant minutes on Wednesday versus the Lobos," Terry said.Alford would probably like to see his team go inside more to Bairstow and Kirk after the Lobos went 4 of 22 on 3-pointers in a 64-55 defeat to the Runnin' Rebels on Saturday. Kirk had 17 points and 16 boards.New Mexico is in first place, one-half game ahead of No. 24 Colorado State."We're in the middle of a championship run, and we've got a chance and that's really our focus and what will happen in the postseason will take care of itself with the body of work that's done here in the next three weeks," Alford said.Fresno State has dropped 10 straight to ranked teams.