NCAA Spotlight on the Men: Bairstow and the Lobos back on top of the Mountain (11-Dec-13)

Damian Arsenis takes a quick look back over the past week in NCAA Division I hoops action and calls out all the highs and lows of the Aussies in action.

Just briefly...

Well let's be honest, with me it is never brief as I attempt to cover as many of the Aussies in action over the past week who have performed well on the Division I stage. And before we get underway this week, it is also worth acknowledging that there are many more talented players from the land down under playing hoops and performing exceptionally well across Division II, NAIA, NJCAA and JUCO schools. However to provide decent coverage of all the players in these competitions and to do them all justice, it is currently way beyond our means at this point in time. Despite this, please feel free to post a comment on a great performance or drop me a message on Twitter to spread the good news!

This week I am changing things up. We have both weekly and monthly awards and I am starting with the big ones as they rightly deserve center stage, but I don't think that they should really surprise anyone...

Player of the Week / Month

After his outstanding performances over the past week that saw him sharing the Mountain West Player of the Week award, it should come as no surprise that senior 6'9" power forward Cameron Bairstow has once again shone more brightly than any other Australian over the past week and in fact the entire first month of the season. He has taken out 3 of the 4 weekly awards so far this season despite Anthony Drmic's efforts in trying to steal the limelight.

The Australian Institute of Sport graduate averaged an outstanding 22 points and 10.5 rebounds per game in leading New Mexico to two wins; firstly over in-state rivals New Mexico State 79-70 on the road, and then a home victory over the previously undefeated Cincinnati 63-54. In doing so, the Lobos improved their record to 7-1 with their Aussie star forward playing a major part of that success.

Against the Aggies, Bairstow racked up 20 points that included a perfect 6/6 shooting from the line to go with 8 rebounds, 1 assist and 2 blocks in 36 minutes. He also had great support from Hugh Greenwood who had 6 points on 2/3 from beyond the arc along with 5 rebounds, 4 assists and 1 block in 32 minutes (recap). Oh, and there was this big dunk too amongst many!

Bairstow with the jam against the Aggies - Courtesy Jim Thomson / Albuquerque Journal

In front of a sell-out and very vocal home crowd of more than 15,000 passionate Lobo fans in facing an undefeated Bearcats, there were two spectators that were especially important to Bairstow - his parents. They had made the long trek from Australia to see their son play live for New Mexico for the first time, and on his 23rd birthday no less. Needless to say that no parent would have been more proud of their son following the on-court exploits of Bairstow who was just unstoppable in hurting the Bearcats inside and out on his way to a big double-double. He racked up game-highs of 24 points and 13 rebounds (career-high) with 3 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks in 37 minutes of non-stop action in what was arguably his most commanding performance in a Lobos uniform (recap and highlights).

Bairstow had this to say after his performance:

“It was really cool. Back home there’s nothing like this so that aspect really blew them away. It was a good opportunity for them to see me live. They’ve seen games online, but to be in the atmosphere was great especially in a big game like this.”

Coach Craig Neal was nothing but glowing of his Australian star:

“I always tease him because four years ago he was a scrawny 6’ 8” kid coming to play and now he’s a man. The thing about Cam, he’s supposed to come down here and do a press conference, but he’s up in the weight room lifting right now. He just does everything to get better. If I told him to go get better by eating dog food, he would eat dog food. He’s going to do whatever it is to get better. I can’t think of anyone else, aside from maybe Daniel Faris, who has improved as much as Cameron has in four years. He’s got great finishes, he’s able to put in on the floor, and he’s blocking shots and helping Alex. He does the little things all the time.”

In battling a hand injury, Greenwood scored 4 points with 5 rebounds and 1 assist in a composed and controlled 36 minutes. Greenwood's efforts this season should also not be underestimated, as he plays a key role as the glue in keeping the team together and on track.

Bairstow is now averaging an outstanding 19.8 points and 7.1 rebounds and 2.8 assists and 1.4 blocks per game, whilst shooting 55.1% from the field and 78.1% from the free throw line. The Lobos and their two Aussie stars now have a chance at increasing their profile and standing in front of a national audience as that take on current #13 ranked Kansas this coming weekend. A win will surely see the Lobos re-enter the national top 25 rankings the following week.

One thing is for sure, if you have not done so already, join me on the Cameron Bairstow bandwagon!

Team of the Week / Month

There was only one successful team featuring Aussies at the best over the past week, and that team was New Mexico. And whilst Boise State may have edged the Lobos slightly when it came to overall record for most of the month, it was just too hard to go past the team from Albuquerque for monthly honours as well.

Bairstow on the attack vs Cincinnati - Courtesy New Mexico Athletics

Finishing the week with two impressive wins over New Mexico State and the previously unbeaten Cincinnati, and the month with just a single loss to nationally ranked Massachusetts, it was hard to mount a case against the Lobos for either award. With Cameron Bairstow arguably the Lobos best and most valuable player so far, and Hugh Greenwood playing a rock solid supporting role as a starter alongside him, the Australian flag is flying high right now in New Mexico and indeed the Mountain West. In fact, with 7-footer Alex Kirk by Bairstow's side, the Lobos have what is arguably the best front court in the country!

The month of December is certainly a tough one for the Lobos, although they have 2 good wins in the bank already. Next up they take on #6 ranked Kansas, followed by a return home bout with the Aggies, and then Marquette before rounding out the month with Grand Canyon in a contest they should not take lightly. A win against Kansas should see the Lobos return to being ranked in the national to 25 next week, something that all Australian's should be getting behind.

The best of the rest

Boise State destroyed NAIA school Carroll College Montana 80-52 despite missing leading scorer Anthony Drmic who sat the game out with an illness. Igor Hadziomerovic scored 5 points with 7 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 steal, while Nick Duncan had 6 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 block in 22 minutes. However their biggest challenge of the season was a date with #11 ranked Kentucky. With Drmic back in the line-up and scoring a team-high 18 points with 4 rebounds, it was still not enough as the Broncos were unable to compete with the Wildcats distinct size advantage. Boise State ended up on the wrong side of the rebound count and ended up with a 55-70 loss. Hadziomerovic chimed in with 6 points, 3 rebounds and 2 steals, whilst Duncan played 5 minutes and had no impact on the contest. The outcome could prove to be a wake-up call to a Broncos team that was held to their lowest score of the season ahead of their clash with Saint Mary’s who remain unbeaten.

Bryant had a big week in playing three games, and they came away with just the 1 win which was a 72-64 victory over Yale. Corey Maynard was once again leading by example, collecting 14 points on 5/6 shooting (2/3 3PT) to go with 3 rebounds, 8 assists and 3 steals in 36 minutes.

Maynard controlling the tempo for Bryant - Courtesy Torrey Vail via Bryant University Athletics

However Bryant was unable to back up the good win as they fell to North Dakota State 62-66 in a tough loss. However yet again Maynard was able to hold his head high. This time he scored 10 points with 4 assists and 2 blocks despite finishing with 4 fouls in 32 minutes. What made this loss worse was the fact they then took on Notre Dame, and while they were gallant, the Bulldogs lost their second in a row in going down 59-70. The team’s senior leader was once again at the forefront, and this time managed an impressive spread of 10 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists, 4 steals and just 2 turnovers in 36 against quality opposition.

The 2 losses mean the Bulldogs fall to 6-3, and is even harder to swallow given their next game is against #3 ranked Ohio State this week. They will need Maynard at his absolute best and to further improve on his rock solid averages of 9.5 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game.

Albany lost to Holy Cross 57-62. Peter Hooley and Sam Rowley were the lone standouts for the Great Danes, combining for 33 of Albany’s 57 points but they did not get enough support. Hooley continued his fine form in posting a team-high 21 points on 7/14 shooting to go with 2 rebounds, 2 assist and 1 steal. Team mate Rowley was his consistent self in compiling 14 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal and 1 block. However the Great Danes were able to bounce back quickly in dispatching Brown 74-68. Rowley this time starred, racking up a team-high 20 points in just 19 minutes as he battled foul trouble. His 20 haul included a stunning 12/15 from the charity stripe and along the way he also picked up 5 rebounds, 2 assists and 1 steal. Hooley gave excellent support in an all-round display, with 9 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals without a turnover. However despite the outstanding combined efforts of this Aussie duo, the Great Danes record now stands at 5-4.

Jordan Vandenberg continued his emergence in making it back-to-back games in scoring in double digits as North Carolina State accounted for Northwestern 69-48. The 7’1” 5th year senior was at his efficient best, scoring 12 points on 6/8 shooting, but he also pulled down 3 rebounds but impressed everyone with a stunning 5 blocked shots. Vandenberg followed his solid outing with one that was much quieter as the Wolfpack accounted for Long Beach State 76-66 to make it 4 wins in a row. Whilst he only had 2 points, he cleaned up 5 rebounds dished out 2 assists but also racked up a further 3 blocked shots. The Aussie big man continues to increase his presence in the paint, and there is no coincidence that since his return from an ankle injury North Carolina State has not lost a game in improving their record to 6-2. Vandenberg is now good for 8.8 points, 6.5 rebounds and an imposing 3 blocks per game and should continue to improve as the season progresses.

In a battle of two teams featuring Australian’s, Saint Mary’s was able to make a run mid-way through the first half on their way to a comfortable 93-65 win over Eastern Washington. While he may have been restricted to just points, Venky Jois was clearly the standout Aussie in the game. He pulled down a team-high 11 rebounds, gave off 2 assists and swatted 2 shots in 32 minutes. Fellow Eagles Felix Von Hofe (7 minutes) and Daniel Hill played sparingly and were unable to make an impact on the game. For the Gael’s who won their 7th straight game in remaining undefeated, Matt Hodgson had 2 points and 2 rebounds in 7 minutes, while Dane Pineau recorded just 2 points and 1 rebound in 3 minutes.

And in rounding out my weekly recap, here are some other noteworthy performances that warrant a mention:

  • California-Riverside had a good 92-77 win over Division III school La Verne to break a 2-game losing skid. Senior power forward Chris Patton was once again leading the way, powering his way to a game-high 20 points on a hot 10/15 shooting. He also managed to collect 8 rebounds and 2 steals in just 23 minutes on court.

  • Reigning national champions and current #7 ranked Louisville defeated Missouri-Kansas City 90-62 and athletic freshman power forward Mangok Mathiang had 7 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 block in 19 minutes of action.

  • Lafayette defeated Sacred Heart 86-79 to make it 3 wins in a row after dropping their first 5 games of the season. Daniel Trist had 10 points in 11 minutes.

  • Corban Wroe made an impact on the scoreboard as Hartford overcame Holy Cross 90-78. He managed 10 points on 5/8 shooting alongside 2 rebounds and 1 steal in just 21 minutes.

  • California-Davis lost to Nevada 81-87 in overtime, however not through a lack of effort from forward Igor Nujic. In starting, Nujic scored 10 points on 4/8 shooting to go with 4 rebounds and 1 block in 29 minutes. The Aggies howevre are now on a 5 game slide ahead of their next challenge against Stanford.

Who was your Aussie player or team of the past week or the last month? Did anyone get missed that should have received a mention? Share your opinion by posting a reply.