- Associated Press - Sunday, March 9, 2014

SAN DIEGO (AP) - With 12:05 to go, No. 21 New Mexico was leading No. 10 San Diego State by 16 points and appeared to have all but claimed another Mountain West Conference championship.

Big men Cameron Bairstow and Alex Kirk were dominating inside. The Lobos were on a 15-0 run.

And then San Diego State coach Steve Fisher agreed with assistant Justin Hutson and switched to a 1-3-1 zone defense. The game turned just like that, with SDSU going on a 19-1 run that carried it to a 51-48 win.

Now it’s the Aztecs who will hang a banner in Viejas Arena and get the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament in Las Vegas.

“They did a good job with it,” Bairstow said of the Aztecs’ zone. “They’re long and athletic. I think it surprised a lot of guys. We weren’t able to settle down. When things went south, I don’t think we did a very good job of staying positive and keeping composed.”

Xavier Thames scored 23 points for SDSU (27-3, 16-2). Josh Davis, SDSU’s other senior, had nine rebounds and six points, including some big plays during a 19-1 run that pulled the Aztecs back into the game.

Thames and Matt Shrigley each made two free throws in the final 9 seconds for SDSU.

The fans rushed the court and black and red confetti fell from the ceiling at Viejas Arena, where the Aztecs were 15-1 this season. Their only home loss was to Arizona on Nov. 14.

Bairstow scored 20 points and keyed two big runs for New Mexico (24-6, 15-3).

But it wasn’t enough.

“They changed the tempo on us and did some things with the zone and we struggled with it,” New Mexico coach Craig Neal said. “I thought we’d be able to handle it and we didn’t do a very good job of that. We had a 16-point lead and everything was going good, then we stopped getting stops defensively and got them going in transition.

“They had 22 points off turnovers and I told our guys that if we could stay under 12, we could win. They turned us over 16 times. It’s a tough learning experience for our guys.”

With SDSU leading 47-45, New Mexico’s Kendall Williams, last season’s Mountain West player of the year, missed a 3-point shot with 9 seconds left.

Thames rebounded and was fouled by Kirk, making both for a four-point lead. Thames had a steal and Shrigley was fouled by Cullen Neal, making both for a 51-45 lead. Williams made a 3-pointer with 1 second left.

New Mexico led 41-25 after Kirk made a turnaround jumper with 12:05 left, capping a 15-0 run in which he and Bairstow did most of the scoring.

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