Stevens: Alford's Lobos Are KING of The Mountain West

March 16, 2013

Selection Day Pit Party: Lobo fans are reminded to hit The Pit Sunday - it's free! - to join their Mountain West champion Lobos watch the 2013 NCAA bracket unfold on the CBS Selection Day Show. The Pit doors open at 3 p.m., with the selection show running from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. There is free parking and the concession stands and The Lobo Den will be open. The event ends at 6 p.m.

"We don't want any other team on that board to have more fans than we do for the live telecast," said Lobo Coach Steve Alford.

New Mexico Lobos Men's Basketball -At The Mountain West Tournament
Las Vegas, Nevada -- Thomas & Mack Center --

Saturday's MW Championship: New Mexico 63, UNLV 56

By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/

Really, this was how this Mountain West Tournament thing should have ended. The cream of the Mountain crop soared to the top during the regular season and did it again in a three-game war in the Las Vegas Thomas & Mack.

And they did it like a hammer coming down on brittle glass. The three UNM victims combined to shoot 32.4 percent and average 50.7 points.

Call it a New Mexico Lobos' double-double.

The University of New Mexico Lobos (29-5) added a Mountain West Tournament Championship to their MW regular-season title by slapping down the UNLV Runnin' Rebels 63-56 in the Rebels' own yard.

And then the Lobos pulled out the ladder and cut down the Rebels' nets as Lobo fans flooded across the Mark floor to join in the championship celebration.

Once again, the Rebels' Thomas & Mack was Pit West.

The Lobos got another double-double, too. Kendall Williams was the MW's Player of the year and Tony Snell was the MW tourney Most Valuable Player.

For sure, this was the year of the Lobo in the Mountain West. The NCAA journey is next.

Snell was on fire Saturday afternoon in the Vegas Thomas & Mack as he put the Lobos' offense on his talented back in the final minutes and helped carry New Mexico to the MW title and the NCAA automatic bid that goes to the tourney victor. Snell was 8-of-11 from the floor and 5-of-7 from 3-point range.

The Lobos will find out their seed Sunday in The Pit in a Selection Day Pit Party that is open to the public.

"It felt like we were in New Mexico," said Craig Neal, UNM's Associate Head Coach. "This is a great thing for our program and a great thing for our fans. This is a special group. They deserve this championship and our fans deserve it."

The Lobos were in a 44-44 tie before Snell powered UNM into a 54-47 lead. The Rebels clawed back to 56-53 and used a Snell turnover to get Katin Reinhardt an open look at a game-tying trey. The Rebel missed and Snell came down and buried a long trey at the top of the key to push UNM up 59-53 with 1:05 to play.

The Rebels then missed a series of shots and UNM's Williams finished the game with two free throws and a breakaway 360-degree dunk. That dunk sent Lobo Coach Steve Alford down his bench hugging and high-fiving his championship team.

The Lobos had a few cold stretches on offense, but were junkyard-dog nasty on the defensive end and once again finished the game like champions. The Lobo appear to be headed toward a No. 2 NCAA seed, but maybe the double-double champion of the toughest rated team in the nation should be looking at a No. 1 spot.

We'll find out on Sunday.

"He's pretty good," said Neal of Snell. "Our kids have bought into a system, have bought into team. Anybody can be the guy on a given night. When Came and Alze are that domin in the paint its hard for peopel to hard our pereith guys."

Snell was joined in double figures by Williams with 12 points. Williams also had seven assists. Anthony Bennett had 15 points but only two points in the second half. Rebel Bryce Dejean-Jones got hot from long range in the second half and finished with 19 points.

UNLV shot 33.9 percent from the floor to 46 percent for the Lobos. UNM went 9-of-19 from 3-point range (47.4 percent) and UNLV was 9-of-31 (29 percent). The Lobos often worked for good, team-produced shots. The Rebels often jacked it.

Second Half: New Mexico 29, UNLV 24

The Lobos came out of the half up by two points and stretched it to 39-34 on a Williams' trey and to 44-39 on a Williams' drive. UNLV got eight straight points - back-to-back treys -- from Jones to form a 44-44 tie with 12:41 to play.

The Lobos popped Snell open off good movement and good screens. He knocked down two treys to push UNM up 52-47 with 7:08 to play. The Lobos came out of their huddle with a designed play: an alley-oop to Snell cutting from high to low. He couldn't get the dunk but came down and flipped in a reverse layup. UNM was up 54-47.

The Lobos were working their way through the same kind of stretch that had won so many previous games for them. They were frustrating the Rebs with nasty defense and working for good shots on the UNM offensive end.

UNLV's Bennett missed an off-balance trey - the Rebels' seventh miss in eight shots -- and then Snell did what Vegas should have done - he drove for a layup. UNM was up 56-47 and UNLV was looking at its last gasp.

One thing about the Rebels is they don't go away easy. UNLV closed to 56-53 with 2:07 to play. Alford called a timeout. Snell turned the ball over on a drive and UNLV ran to get Reinhardt an open look at a trey. He missed. Snell didn't. The lanky Lobo came down and launched in a bomb from the top of the key and UNM was up 59-53.

That ended it.

First Half: New Mexico Lobos 34, UNLV Rebels 32

There wasn't much difference between the two teams in the first half. The pace and the athleticism quickly ignited the divided sea of red that had filled the Thomas & Mack to capacity.

Vegas got 13 points from Antony Bennett, but after scoring UNLV's first 11 points, he only scored two the rest of the way. UNM got nine points from Greenwood, who went 3-of-3 from 3-point range. Snell had eight points.

The UNM Twin Tower of Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow combined for 10 points, but only three boards as UNLV ruled the glass in the first 20 minutes, 21-15. UNLV shot a cool 36.7 percent from the field, while UNM was warmer at 44.8 percent.

The Rebs jumped up 4-0 before a Snell trey handed UNM a 7-4 lead. The Rebels went up 11-9 before Bairstow plowed through the paint and muscled in a short jumper to form an 11-all tie at the 14:21 break.

Greenwood then got open on the perimeter and knocked in back-to-back treys to push UNM up 19-14 going into a break at the 11:12 mark. At that point, UNM was shooting 53.3 percent from the floor. UNLV was shooting 40 percent - 1-of-7 from 3-point range. The Lobos did not give up that lead the rest of the half.

Snell got a steal and a layup and Chad Adams scored inside to hand the Lobos a 23-17 lead. Greenwood hit his third trey: 31-25 UNM. At the final media stop at 3:43, UNM carried a 31-27 lead into the huddle.

UNLV's Katin Reinhardt hit a long trey to beat the buzzer and pull the Rebels into their two-point hole at the half.