Stevens: Alford's Lobos Slap Down UNLV Rebs & Battle SDSU for MW Crown

March 10, 2012

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Lobo Men - Mountain West Tournament - Thomas & Mack Center, Las Vegas, Nevada
Friday: New Mexico Lobos 72, UNLV 67 - MW Semifinals

By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com

The Pit West - sometimes called the Thomas & Mack Center - found a perfect ending Friday night as Steve Alford's Lobos joined Yvonne Sanchez's Lobos in the Mountain West Championship games.

It's Lobos vs. San Diego State and Lobos vs. San Diego State.

Alford's Lobos absorbed an early 17-4 knockout punch by UNLV and fought back to stun the Rebels 72-67 Friday night in the MW semifinals.

If this had been a Las Vegas prize fight, this battle might have been stopped in the first round. The UNLV Rebels came out on their home court and smacked the Lobos in the chin, 17-4. The Lobos then pulled themselves off the ropes and outscored the Rebs the rest of the way.

"We kept talking about poise," said Alford of UNM's early hole. "We told our guys this is the best shot they are going to give us all night. I thought after the first three minutes, our defense was outstanding."

The seeding for the men's tournament looked exactly right after No. 2 seed New Mexico joined No. 1 San Diego State in the Saturday's final run for the Mountain title and the automatic NCAA seed that goes to the eventual winner.

The Aztecs reached the title game with a 79-69 win over Colorado State.

It's kind of a rubber match for the Lobos and the Aztecs, who split their games in the regular-season and had to share the 2012 Mountain West regular-season title.

As for that NCAA bid, the Aztecs and the Lobos are considered locks to go NCAA dancing next week.

However, there is a pride factor on the line, a big trophy, and that automatic bid. But a Lobo win also likely would help the Lobos in seeding for the postseason run at glory. A New Mexico team has never reached the Sweet 16.

"We've been a really good road team all year," said Alford, referring to the game played in Vegas on the Rebels' home court. "We guard."

Defense was a huge key for UNM as they held the Runnin' Rebs to 35.6 percent shooting while UNM countered with a 52 percent shooting night.

Drew Gordon had another monster game for the Lobos with 19 points and 13 rebounds. Tony Snell had 15 points, six boards and six assists. Demetrius Walker again was a big spark off the bench with 12 points, including 6-of-6 from the line.

UNM had 30 points in the paint to 18 inside points for UNLV. Vegas threw out an amazing stat in points off turnovers beating UNM 26 to 2 in that category. UNM had 23 bench points to 11 for Vegas. UNLV got 19 points from Anthony Marshall.

"This is our first final in five years," said Alford of his five-year run as the Lobos head coach.

Said Gordon: "Winning the Mountain West Tournament would be huge for us."

Second Half: New Mexico 41, UNLV 33

The Lobos came out down by three and quickly cut into that gap to go up 39-37 and 42-39 on 3-pointers by Snell. Vegas worked back into a 42-all tie and Gordon scored inside over a double team to allow UNM to carry a 44-42 lead into the 15:38 media break. At a 14:34 time out, Gordon scored inside to help form a 46-46 tie.

The Lobos then ran some nice offense and got Demetrius Walker and Jamal Fenton some clean looks off screens. Fenton's 3-pointer produced a 51-48 UNM lead at the 11:28 break. Walker got a dunk off a nice feed from Gordon, but the Lobo was called for a technical for pulling himself up on the rim after the jam. Vegas got one free throw, kept possession, and Marshall got fouled and made it 53-50 with a single free throw.

Snell worked the baseline and got free for a long jumper: 55-50. UNLV's Brice Massamba scored inside, 55-52, but a pull-up jumper by Fenton raised UNM to 57-52. Bairsow kept UNM up by five on a baseline jumper: 59-54. Massamba scored inside again: 59-56. The Lobos held that 3-point lead going into the 6:45 media break.

Gordon and Massamba did some body-banging inside that ended with Gordon kissing a shot off the glass and adding one from the line: 62-56. The Rebs came down and threw up a low-percentage shot and missed. UNM came down and worked the ball inside to Gordon. He was fouled again. Vegas called a time out.

Gordon came out of the UNM huddle and made both free shots: 64-56. The Rebs went inside and Marshall was fouled by Greenwood. The Rebel made two: 64-58. Alford called a time out at 5:31. Vegas got a trey from Moser to cut UNM's lead to 64-61.

UNM and UNLV then both missed shots and UNM went into an unplanned huddle with 3:26 to play and two seconds on the shot clock. UNM turned it over and Vegas ran. Hawkins was fouled going to the rim. The 63 percent free-throw shooter missed both.

Walker drove for UNM and missed a short one. Vegas' Marshall drove on Greenwood and was fouled after making a layup. He hit his free throw to form a 64-all tie at 2:18. Snell missed a tough trey at 2:01 and Bellfield missed long for Vegas at 1:38.

UNLV's Massamba fouled out bumping Walker on the rebound. Walker made both free shots to hand the Lobos a 66-64 lead with 1:35 to go. The Rebs called time. Marshall came out with a drive and was fouled with 1:18 to play. Marshall made one: 66-65.

Walker got the ball on the baseline, shuffled his feet, but also got bumped and went back to the line for two: 68-65. Marshall drove the lane and forced up a shot in traffic and missed. Gordon got the board and Williams was fouled with 26 seconds to play. Williams made both shots and UNM had a five-point lead. Alford called for time.

Marshall took the ball hard at the rim and missed a soft dunk. He got the ball back off a Lopez offensive rebound and was fouled. He made both shots with 14 second left: 70--67 in favor of UNM. Williams was fouled with 12 seconds and had a chance to semi-ice the win by making one of two. He made them both: 72-67.

Vegas' Stanback missed a baseline trey and UNM got the board. Vegas did not attempt to foul and UNM roared into the title game to play San Diego State - and join the Lobo women in a chase for a title.

First Half: UNLV 34, New Mexico 31

If you were the Lobos and fell behind 17-4 to UNLV in the Thomas & Mack, would you be happy trailing by only three points at the half? Well, maybe.

That's what happened in the first 20 minutes. It definitely wasn't the good start that Alford likes to see on the road - and, yes, the Thomas & Mack is the road when you play UNLV in the MW tourney.

The Rebs used three Lobo turnovers to run to a 17-4 lead, but the Lobos didn't panic. They settled down on defense, took better care of the ball, and ran their offense to actually go up 31-29 with 1:27 to play off two Tony Snell free throws. Vegas took the halftime lead on a 3-pointer by Kendall Wallace with five ticks to go.

The Lobos outshot the Rebs from the floor 50 percent to 37.5 percent. UNLV's edge came on the edge where the Rebs knocked in six treys to a single bomb for UNM. The Lobos almost got even inside where they dominated the glass 22-13 and outscored UNLV 20-8 with points in the paint.

UNLV had 19 points off turnovers to two such points for the Lobos. UNM lost the turnover battle 8-to-2, but started to handle the Vegas pressure better as the half wore on.

Gordon had 10 points for UNM and added three boards. Snell paced UNM with five rebounds and five assists. Oscar Bellfield had 11 points for Vegas and Wallace went 3-of-3 from behind the line for nine points.

The Rebs hit their first shot of the game, a trey by Chace Stanback, and then used three Lobo turnovers to race up 12-0. Walker broke the ice for the Lobos by slicing the lane for two and then Gordon scored inside to make it 12-4.

The Rebs then threw out a 5-0 run to make it 17-4. It was too early to think the Lobos were in trouble and you had to figure the Lobos would start scoring, too. They did. The Rebs missed a few shots and the Lobos threw out an 8-0 run to cut the gap to 17-12. Walker made two free throws to pull UNM to 19-16 at the 12:05 mark. At the 7:33 media break, the Rebs were up 26-20.

A Wallace trey stretched Vegas into a 29-20 lead, but the Lobos got a trey from Snell and two inside shots from Gordon to make it a two-point game at 29-27.

At the 3:09 media stop, that 29-27 count still held. Fenton hit a pull-up jumper in the lane to form a 29-all tie and then Snell went to the line to produce a 31-29 Lobo lead. Bellfield tied the game at the line and then Wallace beat Fenton on a trey to give Vegas the 3-point bump at the half.