Stevens: No. 5 Seed New Mexico To Portland To Battle Long Beach State

March 11, 2012

By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/

Bring on the Long Beach State 49ers!

It was a good day for national exposure for the University of New Mexico and even a better day for Steve Alford and his Mountain West Champion New Mexico Lobos as they were handed a No. 5 seed and shipped to Portland, Ore. for an NCAA battle this Thursday with Long Beach State, the No. 12 seed.

The value for a program falling into the NCAA bracket was reflected even before the NCAA Selection show began on CBS. Coach Alford was the last live interview heading into the national show. The Lobos didn't have to wait long as the name "New Mexico" was called early in the show.

The Lobos will have to deal with the two-time Big West Conference Player of The Year, Casper Ware, who roared for 33 points to lead his Long Beach State 49ers to a 77-64 win over UC Santa Barbara this past Saturday.

Ware matched his career high and tied the school record with eight 3-pointers as the flashy senior guard posted his third 30-point game of the season. The Lobos probably can't expect Casper to be a friendly 49er, but Ware also will meet an extremely unfriendly defense from the Lobos.

New Mexico's defensive pride was flashed this past week in Las Vegas when the Lobos slapped down Air Force, UNLV and in the championship game routed San Diego State.

In a bit of irony, the UNLV Rebels will open their NCAA dance in Albuquerque in The Pit.

Long Beach State gets a lot of production from Ware, but the 49ers will be looking at a New Mexico team that applies great defense on the edge and has 6-foot-9 Drew Gordon, the Mountain West tourney's MVP, to take care of things inside.

The Lobos return to the NCAA postseason was no surprise and an at-large bid was locked in prior to the MW tourney in Vegas that brought the Lobos the league's automatic bid and improved their seed for the NCAA bracket.

The No.1 seeds are Kentucky, Syracuse, North Carolina and Michigan State. The Mountain West ended up with four teams dancing as UNM and UNLV were joined by San Diego State and Colorado State, which finished strong to slip off the NCAA bubble and into the bracket.

The 49ers also had James Ennis on the Big West All-Tournament team. Long Beach State got nine rebounds in the title game from Edis Dervisevic, who made his first start of the season for the 49ers.