Stevens: Lobos vs. Aztecs is a Rubber Match With NCAA Intensity

March 15, 2013

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

Friday: 7 p.m. (MT) - New Mexico vs. San Diego State.
Friday: 9:30 p.m. (MT) - UNLV Rebels vs. Colorado State Rams
Lobos On The Air: 770-AM KKOB/Lobo Radio Network; CBS Sports Network (DISH 158, DirecTV 613, Comcast 274) GameTracker, Game Story, Statistics, Quotes, LoboTV

By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/

If you want to give the Lobos a little extra fire for this Thomas & Mack semifinal war, maybe someone ought to claim that San Diego State Coach Steve Fisher said that The Pit West is the Aztecs' third home.

After the Aztecs slipped past Boise State Wednesday night, Fisher talked about how the New Mexico Lobos seem to find some extra motivation for the Aztecs' Pit visit from a statement that Fisher said he never made.

The Aztecs' coach said somebody "incorrectly said that I said The Pit was our second home. They (Alford) responded after they beat us that sometimes a second home is not as good as you think they are.

"They (Lobos) were anxious to play us. I'm sure they'll be anxious to play us again. So will we.

"They are going to come at us and they are going to try and smack us around like they did at their place."

And ditto for the Aztecs, who slapped the Lobos around in San Diego. Hey, is this a Mountain West semifinal battle - or is this personal? Or both?

You can't help but wonder if bulletin board material and coach's quotes (or misquotes) make much difference when Lobos battle Aztecs. To some, the Lobos bitterest Mountain West rival is the Aztecs from San Diego. To other, it's those UNLV Rebels who take Lobo fans back to Tark The Shark (Tarkanian) vs. Stormin' Normin' (Ellenberger) wars.

At the bare bones, either of these battles puts two talented, motivated and prideful teams on the floor. That's what's going to happen Friday night in the Thomas & Mack.

"We have to match (the Lobos) intensity," said SDSU's Chase Tapley.

Here's a good way to get Lobos up for Aztecs and vice versa: roll out a basketball. And then run for cover. There is no love lost between these teams for at least 40 minutes.

The Lobos and Aztecs advanced to the Mountain West semifinals as the result of good work in the quarterfinals. UNM beat Wyoming 59-46 and San Diego State fought back Boise State 73-67.

The Lobos beat down the Aztecs 70-60 in The Pit.

The Aztecs humiliated the Lobos 55-34 in San Diego. Fisher said he heard the Lobos pasted the number "34" all over their locker room prior to SDSU's trip to Albuquerque. Something obviously worked for the Lobos. They added 26 more points to their total in The Pit.

It will be interesting to see what the scoreboard does in the Thomas & Mack. This is neutral territory - well, except when UNLV is in the building - and the Lobos and the Aztecs can both be nasty on defense.

Friday's semifinal is a rubber match with a huge dash of pride on the line. It also might be more important to the Aztecs' NCAA dreams. Surely a few Aztecs believe the final notch on their season's resume to guarantee they'll go NCAA dancing would be a victory over the No. 15 ranked Lobos - the 2013 MW regular-season champion.

SDSU might already be an at-large lock, but the NCAA bubble produces doubts and insecurities. A victory over UNM probably guarantees an invite.

"I'll take a forfeit if he (Alford) doesn't want to come," said Fisher. "He's going to be in the (NCAA) Tournament. He's going to be a second seed. He probably doesn't need another championship."

Maybe. But the Lobos want another championship and they want another win over the Aztecs. As for NCAA seeding, the Lobos probably are a No. 2 or a No. 3 or maybe on the bubble between those two numbers.

A win over the Aztecs would push the Lobos into the MW title game and maybe secure a No. 2 seed. But would a MW tourney title get the Lobos a few more mentions as a No. 1 seed?

That's why the Lobos' Selection Day Party (3 p.m. to 6 p.m.) in The Pit is a must-attend for UNM fans. March Madness really hits long before the NCAA basketball are tipped.

There will be March Madness in the Thomas & Mack when Lobos battle Aztecs. This game will have an NCAA intensity.

"It's going to be a hard-fought game," said SDSU's Jamaal Franklin. "We had a big lead on them at our house, but it was still a hard-fought game. Both teams are probably the best defensive teams in the conference.

"We can't wait for Friday."