Mountain West Conference Tournament Championship Game

Mountain West Conference Tournament Championship Game

(1) New Mexico 63 (3) UNLV 56

The New Mexico Lobos were the best team in the Mountain West Conference during the long regular season. They were the best team in the Mountain West Conference during the past four days in Las Vegas.

New Mexico won three games at the Thomas and Mack Center, punctuated by Saturday’s triumph over the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels in the championship game of the MWC Tournament. The victory gives New Mexico a strong claim on a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament, which would be the highest seed in the history of the program. Coach Steve Alford’s club played its typical brand of ball against UNLV, wearing down an opponent with defense and getting clutch shots from someone in the lineup.

In past weeks, various players have been the “special someone” for New Mexico. Kendall Williams threw down 46 points in the season-changing win over Colorado State (on Feb. 23) that enabled New Mexico to win the Mountain West regular season title. Big man Alex Kirk dominated San Diego State on Feb. 27, scoring 25 points against the Aztecs’ overwhelmed front line. New Mexico doesn’t rely on any one guy to get crucial points in difficult situations against formidable foes, but someone is almost always able to answer the bell in a moment of need, and that’s why this team has been so good on such a consistent basis in 2013.

On Saturday, the step-up (and standout) guy for New Mexico was Tony Snell. With the Lobos clinging to a tenuous 46-45 lead with under 8:20 left in regulation, UNLV had to feel very good about its chances, given the fact that it was playing in its own building. New Mexico’s offense is prone to scoring droughts, and the Lobos were scuffling at that point. Someone needed to emerge, and Snell stepped into the breach.

Snell hit a three-pointer to begin to turn the tide for UNM. After UNLV scored, Snell scored the next seven points of the game to give the Lobos a 56-47 lead with 3:48 left. UNLV’s Bryce Dejean-Jones hit two tough threes to pull the Rebels within three points, at 56-53, with 2:19 on the clock, but Snell – following a UNLV miss – banged in a three with 1:06 to go to put New Mexico up by a 59-53 margin. Snell was everything that UNLV shooting guard Katin Reinhardt wasn’t on Saturday. Whereas Snell hit clutch shot after clutch shot, Reinhardt – who finished 4 for 16 from the field – missed a tying triple with 1:41 to go when UNLV trailed by three. When Snell responded at the other end of the floor, the Rebels lost their last best chance to win. UNLV won’t feel great about this game or its outcome, but the Rebels certainly did play a lot better in this tournament when compared to the final two weeks of the regular season. If UNLV can carry this past week of form to the NCAA tournament, it might be able to make some noise.

New Mexico, though, is the Mountain West’s big hope in March. Since the Mountain West was formed in 1999, the league has not placed a single team in the Elite Eight. Forget about the Final Four; the Mountain West merely needs to get past the Sweet 16 first. New Mexico has not made the Sweet 16 since 1974. This is the moment for the Lobos to make some history for their own program… and for their conference as well.

Matt Zemek

Mountain West Conference Tournament – Semifinals

Mountain West Conference Tournament – Semifinals

(1) New Mexico 60 (4) San Diego State 50

New Mexico advances to play (3) UNLV in the championship game on March 16

The New Mexico Lobos were the best team in the Mountain West Conference all season long. Now, they’re just one win away from affirming that reality to an even greater degree.

The regular season champion in the MWC advanced to the title game of the league tournament on Friday night, hammering the San Diego State Aztecs in a game that wasn’t as close as the score indicated. New Mexico might have won by 10 points on the scoreboard, but Los Lobos essentially put this game away with just over 16 minutes left in regulation. UNM led by a 32-22 margin early in the second half, but an 11-0 run gave the top seed a 43-22 bulge with 16:17 on the clock. The Lobos cruised down the stretch, allowing San Diego State to pull within nine points with just over four minutes remaining but never losing any real control of the situation. New Mexico’s defense locked down on the Aztecs throughout this game, exposing San Diego State’s inconsistency on yet another occasion.

San Diego State hit just 31 percent of its field goal attempts, and its meal-ticket scorer, star forward Jamaal Franklin, hit just 3 of 12 shots in a nightmarish performance. Franklin scored just 8 points, and when he’s not on, the Aztecs don’t have enough dependable scorers to make up the difference. Chase Tapley and Xavier Thames both posted respectable 14-point efforts for SDSU, but no other player on the roster reached double figures. San Diego State also earned only eight free throw attempts, a sign of how well New Mexico handcuffed the Aztecs with its size and length in the paint. New Mexico puts a big lineup on the floor, with its smallest guard being 6-3 and its smallest forward being 6-9. San Diego State could not find a way around that kind of size, and without cheap points at the foul line in the midst of shooting struggles from the field, the Aztecs were lost at sea.

(3) UNLV 75 (2) Colorado State 65

UNLV advances to play (1) New Mexico in the championship game on March 16

The UNLV Runnin’ Rebels limped to the finish line at the end of the 2013 regular season. They’ve quickly revived themselves in the Mountain West Conference Tournament.

UNLV, playing in its home building at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas, played with great energy and commitment at both ends of the floor on Friday night. The Runnin’ Rebels, who went through the motions last Saturday in a stunning nine-point loss to Fresno State, were anything but casual against the Colorado State Rams, one of the elite rebounding teams in the country. UNLV was outrebounded for the game, but it stared down CSU at crunch time and outworked CSU on the glass in important moments. The Rebels gained several second-chance points in the latter stages of the second half to pull away for the victory.

The decisive sequence in this game came with 4:50 left, after Colorado State – which played catch-up most of the way – pulled within three points of Vegas, at 64-61, on a three-pointer by Wes Eikmeier. UNLV earned a two-shot foul, making the first attempt and missing the second one. Quintrell Thomas gained the offensive rebound for the Rebels, and with 4:35 left, Katin Reinhardt hit a jumper to push UNLV’s lead back to a much more comfortable margin, at 67-61. Colorado State went dry on its next few possessions, and when UNLV built a 71-61 lead at the 2:41 mark of regulation, the Rams’ last best chance at a comeback had evaporated.

Colorado State big man Colton Iverson did all he could for the Rams, scoring 24 points and snapping down 16 rebounds, but he didn’t get any help on a night when teammate Dorian Green labored through an injury and was less than fully effective. UNLV is not known for its depth, but the Rebels received a lot of important contributions from their roster on Friday. Thomas and teammate Savon Goodman didn’t score a lot, but their combined total of nine points gave Vegas just enough extra production in a game that was closer than the final 10-point margin would suggest. Thomas and Goodman combined for 11 rebounds and played tenacious defense at the other end of the floor. Because UNLV got some value from its reserves, the starters didn’t have to do everything. Reinhardt stepped up with 21 points after a terrible performance in the quarterfinals against Air Force on Wednesday. Anthony Bennett poured in 19 points, while Anthony Marshall added 12.

 

Matt Zemek

Mountain West Conference Tournament – Quarterfinals

Mountain West Conference Tournament – Quarterfinals

(3) UNLV 72 (6) Air Force 56

UNLV advances to play (2) Colorado State in the semifinals on March 15

There was a lot of excitement surrounding the first quarterfinal of the day at the Mountain West Conference Tournament in Las Vegas. Air Force was supposed to give UNLV quite a run, but the Runnin’ Rebels weren’t tested by the Falcons becuase the Academy’s two best players were knocked out by injuries before the first half was over.

Two minutes into this game on Wednesday afternoon, Air Force star Michael Lyons got injured in a scramble near the midcourt line. He was taken to the locker room, never to return. Shortly after that, big man Taylor Broekhuis – the low-post presence who is bulky enough to handle opposing pivots – suffered an injury of his own. Without those two players, Air Force didn’t have a realistic chance to slow down UNLV, and the remainder of the game proved as much. UNLV cruised to an easy 16-point win despite hitting only four foul shots and making only one of its first 10 treys.

Anthony Bennett scored 23 points for UNLV, unchallenged by a depleted Air Force defense that lacked enough size near the tin. UNLV’s defense flourished, limiting Air Force to just two free throw attempts while forcing 15 turnovers by the Falcons.

(2) Colorado State 67 (7) Fresno State 61

Colorado State advances to play (3) UNLV in the semifinals on March 15

The Colorado State Rams knew that with their senior point guard out of the lineup on Wednesday afternoon, their task would become more difficult even as their expectations become much simpler and more reduced. All Colorado State needed to do against the Fresno State Bulldogs was win.

Without Dorian Green on the court, the Rams lacked their main floor general. A seamless performance against Fresno State was not a reasonable goal. The Rams just needed to push past the Bulldogs, earn a day off on Thursday, and get Green healthy for a possible semifinal showdown against third-seeded UNLV. They did not need to look good; “survive and advance” was the mantra for coach Larry Eustachy’s team.

Mission accomplished.

Colorado State had a 55-46 lead with 4:50 left in regulation, but that advantage was trimmed to two points, at 57-55, with 2:12 remaining. After the Rams made a foul shot, Fresno State had a chance to tie with a three, but Marvelle Harris stepped out of bounds on a drive with 1:27 to go. On CSU’s next possession, Wes Eikmeier buried a three to give the Rams a 61-55 cusion with 1:07 left. Fresno State closed the deficit to two again, at 62-60, with 29 seconds on the clock, but Eikmeier hit two more foul shots with 24 seconds left to give Colorado State a four-point lead. Fresno State missed a three with 12 seconds left, and the Rams advanced.

It’s all they needed to do.

(1) New Mexico 59 (8) Wyoming 46

New Mexico advances to play (4) San Diego State in the semifinals on March 15

The New Mexico Lobos were not convincing in their Mountain West quarterfinal victory over the Wyoming Cowboys on Wednesday. They didn’t have to be.

Wyoming had a chance to upset the regular season champion in the conference, but the Cowboys hit just 32 percent of their shots on a night when they played superb defense. Wyoming limited New Mexico to just 17 made field goals for the whole contest, hounding the Lobos at every turn. With six minutes left in regulation, the Cowboys trailed by only six points, at 48-42. However, nobody on the Wyoming roster could find a hot hand at crunch time. New Mexico, which scored only 11 points on a series of 20 possessions in the early stages of the second half, put together a 7-0 run to gain a 55-42 lead with just over three minutes left, essentially putting the game away.

New Mexico gained two key advantages in this game: First, the Lobos outscored Wyoming at the free throw line, 21 to 8. The 13-point differential at the charity stripe was also the final scoreboard margin. New Mexico also collected 12 bench points, while Wyoming’s reserves were shut out.

(4) San Diego State 73 (5) Boise State 67

San Diego State advances to play (1) New Mexico in the semifinals on March 15

It’s going to be a long wait for the Boise State Broncos until Selection Sunday. For the next four days, coach Leon Rice’s team will sit on the middle of the NCAA tournament bubble, not knowing if it will make the field of 68 or not.

Boise State could have locked up a spot in the Big Dance on Wednesday in Las Vegas, but the Broncos entrusted their fate to the Selection Committee by failing to take down the San Diego State Aztecs in the most anticipated Mountain West quarterfinal of the day. It’s more likely than not that Boise State will still get into the tournament, but there’s certainly enough reason to suggest that if other bubble teams perform well in the coming days, the Broncos could be crowded out of the field.

How did Boise State lose to San Diego State? The Broncos were jittery and impatient all night long, rushing shots and trying to play one-on-one ball far too often. Boise State hit just 35 percent of its field goal attempts. Derrick Marks and Anthony Drmic, two of the Broncos’ best shooters, were simply horrid on Wednesday. Drmic was 7 of 20 from the field, but Marks was even worse, making just 4 of 22 shots on a night when his teammates were shut out of the offense. Boise State did not share the ball or make the extra pass on offense, and that’s exactly what San Diego State wanted.

The Aztecs were anything but impressive in this game, however. Given Boise State’s offensive struggles, SDSU should have hammered the Broncos. Instead, the Aztecs coughed up 18 turnovers, allowing BSU to remain close heading into the final minutes. With just under three minutes left, the Aztecs clung to a narrow 59-57 lead. It was then that Jamaal Franklin, San Diego State’s best player, answered the call. Two foul shots pushed SDSU’s lead to four at 61-57. An old-fashioned three-point play by teammate Winston Shepard increased to lead to 64-57, and Franklin added a dunk moments later to fend off Boise State’s last rally. San Diego State will have to play far better against New Mexico in Friday’s semifinals if it wants to win this tournament. Boise State can only sit and watch as the next four days slowly pass by.

 

Matt Zemek

 

 

Mountain West Conference Tournament: Play-In Game

Mountain West Conference Tournament: Play-In Game

(8) Wyoming 85 (9) Nevada 81

Wyoming advances to play (1) New Mexico in the quarterfinals on March 13

It is one of the most poignant narrative outcomes in any sporting competiton: The very person who enabled a team to remain competitive against the odds became the person who squandered his team’s chance at victory. The Nevada Wolf Pack will not play another basketball game this season, all because its best player became its goat on Tuesday evening in Las Vegas.

The scene was a surprisingly dramatic one for a play-in game in a conference tournament: Nevada and Wyoming weren’t expected to produce fireworks, but after Wyoming had amassed an 11-point lead with 8:10 left in regulation, the Wolf Pack made a charge at the Cowboys, trimming that fat margin to one point, at 73-72, with 2:11 left. Deonte Burton, for multiple years the Pack’s elite scorer, had tallied 25 points to keep Nevada afloat. Without him, the ninth seed wouldn’t have had a chance to win. However, a few moments later, it was Burton who drove the final nail in his team’s coffin, ending Nevada’s season while Wyoming earned a date with league champion New Mexico in the quarterfinals.

Wyoming added a free throw to take a 74-72 lead with 1:25 left, but Nevada got the ball back with a chance to tie or take the lead. Burton, before he could loft a game-tying or go-ahead shot, got stripped by Wyoming’s Leonard Washington, who dashed the other way and made a layup with 1:14 to go. Burton compounded his massive mistake by fouling Washington on the play. Washington made the resulting foul shot to create an old-fashioned three-pointer, giving Wyoming a 77-72 cushion that came in handy in the final seconds. Nevada narrowed Wyoming’s lead to three points, at 84-81, with seven seconds on the clock, but a made foul shot by Derrious Gilmore enabled the Cowboys to salt the game away with four seconds left. Burton finished as the game’s high scorer with 27 points, but his mistake is the only thing he – or his teammates – will remember from Tuesday night.

There was a deeper story to the way in which this game unfolded, before its dramatic resolution. Larry Nance, Jr. led the Cowboys with 19 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 assists. He provided great energy for the Pokes, who set the pace for most of the evening after a sluggish start. Wyoming, one must realize, played this game against the backdrop of the fact that it lost its best player, guard Luke Martinez, at the beginning of January. Martinez was kicked off the team for his role in a violent fight just before a Jan. 2 game at Southern Methodist. When Martinez left the lineup, Wyoming lost much of its scoring production, enough to hijack the Cowboys’ season. Wyoming had been an NCAA tournament contender with Martinez; without him, the Pokes plummeted in the Mountain West. Additional injuries and illnesses reduced Wyoming to a Division II-level team for portions of the month of February. What had once been a journey filled with optimism had turned so conspicuously sour.

Nevada had a right to be seen as the favorite in this game, despite being the lower seed. That part of the pregame buildup makes the Wolf Pack’s loss that much more agonizing; it makes Wyoming’s performance that much more impressive. Wyoming played with more vigor and vigilance for the first 32 minutes of this game before Nevada staged a desperate countersurge that was ultimately too little and too late.

Matt Zemek

Mountain West Conference Basketball Week in Review – March 4, 2013

MWC Basketball Scores

Tuesday, February 26

  • Air Force 72 Wyoming 66

Wednesday, February 27

  • Boise State 73 Nevada 47
  • New Mexico 70 San Diego State 60
  • Colorado State 74 Fresno State 67

Saturday, March 2

  • Boise State 78 Colorado State 65
  • UNLV 80 Nevada 63
  • New Mexico 53 Wyoming 42
  • Fresno State 56 Air Force 41

The Mountain West Conference has an outright champion, a king crowned a full week before the end of the regular season. The 2013 Mountain West race figured to be the kind of dogfight that was going to go down to the wire, but the New Mexico Lobos proved to be far more consistent and upset-proof than a lot of pundits and hoopheads ever could have predicted.

New Mexico is not a team that blows out its opponents, but the Lobos regularly churn out wins by seven to twelve points. That’s just how coach Steve Alford’s team goes about its business, and this week was certainly no exception. The Lobos hammered out a 10-point lunch-pail win over San Diego State on Wednesday, overcoming what was likely their last severe obstacle on the road to a split Mountain West title, something that was nearly assured when UNM beat Colorado State on Feb. 23. However, when Boise State rose up and beat second-place Colorado State this past Saturday, UNM was able to clinch not just a split title, but an outright title, with a victory over Wyoming. New Mexico’s ability to dominate – not merely win – the Mountain West in a year when the conference has been noticeably powerful is something that has the Lobos in the mix for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. At worst, New Mexico is looking at a No. 2 seed, a terrific achievement for a team that is trying to get to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1974. The people of Albuquerque have longed for a Sweet 16 trip for so long – in many ways, a run to the Sweet 16 holds almost as much value as a Final Four appearance because it has been denied the Lobos for nearly four full decades. With a No. 2 seed in the NCAAs, New Mexico will clearly have its best shot to finally cross the threshold once again.

Boise State’s win over Colorado State, briefly referred to above, didn’t merely knock CSU out of the Mountain West race, sending the Rams into a second-place tie with UNLV. No, the result was and is significant for another reason as well: It put the Broncos on the precipice of making the NCAA tournament for the second time since 1994. Boise State likely needs just one more win in its next three games to make the field of 68. Two more wins would definitely punch the Broncos’ ticket.

Air Force is a bubble team that has played its way out of the field. The Falcons didn’t have a strong resume to begin with, but their loss at Fresno State on Saturday night sealed their fate. The Falcons have had a very encouraging season, and an NIT bid still represents a great result for the program. Yet, there will be a sense of regret in Colorado Springs that this week’s upcoming games against San Diego State and New Mexico will not have NCAA tournament implications.

By Matt Zemek
DFN Sports Senior Staff Writer

Mountain West Basketball Week in Review – February 11, 2013

Weekly Mountain West Conference Basketball Scores

Wednesday, February 6

  • Colorado State 73 Nevada 69
  • New Mexico 81 Air Force 58
  • San Diego State 63 Boise State 62
  • Wyoming 61 Cal State Bakersfield 53
  • Fresno State 64 UNLV 55

Saturday, February 9

  • San Diego State 75 Fresno State 53
  • Boise State 68 Wyoming 61
  • UNLV 64 New Mexico 55
  • Nevada 74 Air Force 69

The Mountain West Conference continues to be shaken up on a weekly basis, just as everyone expected. Once again, though, the expected shocks are coming from unexpected places.

One breathtaking moment from the past week was not even an upset on the scoreboard, just an improbable sequence of events that might keep the Boise State Broncos out of the NCAA tournament. A year ago in San Diego, Boise State watched as a game-winning three somehow rolled out of the basket against San Diego State. This year, the Broncos looked on as San Diego State’s Chase Tapley corralled a loose ball and, shortly thereafter, fired in a game-winning three with just 2.8 ticks left on the clock. Boise State erased a 17-point deficit to take a late lead, but Derrick Marks missed the second of two foul shots in the final seconds, enabling Tapley’s shot to beat BSU as opposed to sending the game into overtime. Boise State desperately needed the win, since it is below .500 in the Mountain West. The Broncos have a road win at Creighton to enhance their resume, but they have to do more work in the Mountain West in order to reach the Big Dance. A Saturday win over Wyoming was a good start, but it’s only a small piece in the puzzle. Boise State has to win at least five of its next eight games (the eighth game in the sequence being the quarterfinals of the Mountain West Conference Tournament on Thursday, March 14). If the Broncos merely win four of those eight, they will be sweating heavily on Selection Sunday (March 17), with the odds probably stacked against them.

The other big surprises this past week were indeed upsets. The Fresno State Bulldogs, cellar-dwellers in the league, knocked off a listless UNLV team on Wednesday in the California Valley. UNLV’s halfcourt offense has been a recurring problem this season for the Runnin’ Rebels, who have not been able to establish any sort of rhythm at that end of the floor. UNLV might have been looking ahead to its Saturday date with Mountain West-leading New Mexico, but as eager as the Rebels might have been for their home date with the Lobos, they had to play well. Emotions only get you so far in sports; execution is the other half of the equation, and sure enough, Las Vegas vexed New Mexico with smothering halfcourt defense. The Lobos didn’t score 34 or 46 points (their scoring totals in their other two road losses this season), but they were hardly effective. New Mexico hit just 34 percent of its field goals and went only 4 of 22 from three-point range. The Lobos also missed half of their 18 foul shots, failing to shoot with high-level proficiency from any spot on the floor. UNLV hit only 37 percent of its shots, but it blocked seven shots while committing only 10 turnovers. UNLV affirmed its place in the 2013 NCAA Tournament after the discouraging loss to Fresno State.

The other big upset in the league has Air Force in a world of trouble. The Falcons played their way into the NCAA hunt but are now on the bad side of the bubble after losing at Nevada on Saturday. A loss at New Mexico on Wednesday didn’t hurt, but Air Force needed to steer clear of a bad loss, and a setback in Reno against one of the worst teams in the conference is exactly what the Falcons will rue on Selection Sunday. Air Force must now win at least two games against the elite of the Mountain West in the coming weeks while avoiding any more bad losses.

By Matt Zemek
DFN Sports Senior Staff Writer

Mountain West Basketball Week in Review – February 5, 2013

Weekly Mountain West Conference Basketball Scores

Tuesday, January 29

  • UNLV 66 Nevada 54

Wednesday, January 30

  • Air Force 62 Fresno State 50
  • Colorado State 77 Boise State 57
  • New Mexico 63 Wyoming 59

Saturday, February 2

  • Colorado State 65 Wyoming 46
  • Boise State 77 UNLV 72
  • Air Force 70 San Diego State 67
  • New Mexico 75 Nevada 62

The Mountain West Conference was going to be a rollercoaster all season long. It’s been talked about and bandied hither and yon, but the fascinating part of this campaign was always going to linger. You knew that plot twists would emerge, but the eternal surprise of sport is where the upsets come from and how they unfold. That’s the thing Mountain West basketball observers couldn’t honestly predict.

On Saturday, Feb. 2, the season received its first really big dose of drama, as two teams on the edge of the conference’s pursuit of NCAA tournament tickets announced their presence in big ways. What had seemed like a four-team procession to the Big Dance could once again become a six-team parade. As mentioned above, though, it’s the way in which the scenario has unfolded that is surprising. The volatility itself is not particularly unexpected.

A few weeks ago, Wyoming looked like a bid-holder in the Mountain West, but the Cowboys are now fading quickly from the picture after losing to New Mexico and Colorado State. The team that’s leading the charge in the Mountain West as a potential fifth team in Bracketville is…

… Air Force??? Yes, Air Force.

The Falcons were flying off the radar screen, but they’re now an NCAA tournament target. The Academy thrust itself onto the middle of the bubble, very much in the hunt for a Dance card, after beating San Diego State at home for the second straight season on Saturday in Colorado Springs. In a terrific back-and-forth barnburner, the Falcons nipped the Aztecs on a day when the two teams’ superstars – AFA’s Michael Lyons (20 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists) and San Diego State’s Jamaal Franklin (25 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists) – maxed out, the Falcons got more production from their supporting cast. Air Force’s bench outscored SDSU’s reserves, 23-6. Meanwhile, San Diego State point guard Chase Tapley, who entered the game as a dependable scorer – averaging 14.6 points per game – scored only two points on 1-of-7 shooting. His nightmare outing made the difference in this contest, which propelled Air Force to 5-2 in the Mountain West, in second place in the league alongside Colorado State and ahead of both SDSU and UNLV. Air Force’s non-conference resume was bereft of any quality wins, so the Falcons have much more work to do to make the NCAAs. However, they now have a legitimate chance, which is more than what the program realistically could have hoped for under coach Dave Pilipovich, who is in his first full season on the job at the Academy. Few coaches have done better work to this point in the season than Pilopovich, who was named Air Force’s interim coach in the middle of last season after the team’s previous bench boss, Jeff Reynolds, was fired. The Falcons’ rise has caught many college basketball pundits off guard – not the ascendancy itself, but the quickness with which it has occurred. Next season was supposed to be the breakthrough moment for Air Force, but Pilipovich has his program one year ahead of schedule.

The other team that got back into the NCAA hunt this week was Boise State. The Broncos, leading UNLV by nine with 3:34 left, didn’t score for the next 3:27, missing three straight front ends of one-and-ones while the Runnin’ Rebels scored eight straight points. However, UNLV – when trailing 73-72 in the final half-minute – launched an ill-advised three instead of attacking the rim for a two-point basket or a pair of foul shots. The long ball by Anthony Marshall missed, and Boise State sealed the win with four free throws in the final seven seconds. Boise State’s road win at Creighton in non-conference play gives the Broncos the kind of poker chip Air Force lacks. Even though Air Force is two games ahead of the 3-4 Broncos in MWC competition, the two teams’ resumes stand on relatively equal ground. The Mountain West might yet get six teams into the NCAAs… just not in the configuration many expected.

It’s that kind of year in the wacky and wild Mountain West.

By Matt Zemek
DFN Sports Senior Staff Writer

Mountain West Basketball Week in Review – January 28, 2013

Weekly MWC Basketball Scores

Wednesday, January 23

  • New Mexico 66 Colorado State 61
  • Air Force 90 New Orleans 48
  • Boise State 74 Fresno State 67
  • San Diego State 78 Nevada 57

Thursday, January 24

  • UNLV 62 Wyoming 50

Saturday, January 26

  • Colorado State 74 Fresno State 63
  • Air Force 57 Wyoming 48
  • San Diego State 55 New Mexico 34
  • Nevada 75 Boise State 59

The Mountain West Conference took four teams to the NCAA tournament last season: New Mexico, San Diego State, UNLV, and Colorado State. As January moves toward February, it looks increasingly likely that those four teams will once again represent the league in March Madness… and nobody else.

Two weeks ago, Boise State and Wyoming harbored what were truly legitimate hopes for a Big Dance card, but those aspirations lie in tatters after the past week. The more one sees of Boise State and Wyoming, the more it’s clear that the Broncos and Cowboys are moving in the wrong direction, while the top of the league affirms its basketball chops.

Boise State had its big chance last week when it took league-leading New Mexico into overtime on its home court. However, the Broncos couldn’t close the sale against the Lobos, and they haven’t been the same team since. Boise State’s defense has been entirely too leaky in recent weeks, hemorrhaging in a 91-80 loss at Air Force on Jan. 19 and displaying little of the ruggedness that is needed to win Mountain West slugfests. This same lack of defense came back to bite the Broncos this past Saturday in Reno, as the University of Nevada – at the bottom of the league alongside Fresno State – made the game of basketball look relatively easy against Boise. The Wolfpack hammered the Broncos by 16 points, shooting 48 percent from the field and earning 10 more foul shots than Boise State. Nevada flourished on defense as well, limiting BSU to 36-percent field goal shooting and a paltry 4-for-21 (19 percent) outing from three-point range. Boise State has to have a February sent straight from the basketball gods if it wants to make the NCAAs at this point.

The same is true for Wyoming. The Cowboys won their first 13 games of the season, but that was before Mountain West play began. The Cowboys split four games in the league, mixing a bad loss to Fresno State with a great win over San Diego State. As the season progressed, the Cowboys needed to show more consistency and prove that they could take care of the lesser teams in the conference.

This past week did not achieve that goal. The Cowboys’ Thursday loss at UNLV was nothing to be ashamed of; a lot of teams will lose in Las Vegas to the tournament-bound Runnin’ Rebels. The problem for Larry Shyatt’s team was that after losing in Sin City, it couldn’t defend its home floor on Saturday against Air Force, losing to the Falcons on a night when baskets were hard to come by. Wyoming got 19 points on 8-of-12 shooting from Leonard Washington, but nobody else on the Cowboys stepped up. The rest of the team, outside of Washington, combined to hit 9 of 39 shots, well under 25 percent. The whole team, including Washington, was 5 of 28 from three-point range, a stomach-churning 18-percent clip. Wyoming sorely missed leading scorer Luke Martinez, suspended indefinitely for his involvement in a bar fight a few weeks ago. The Cowboys have to find some scoring punch if they want to get back into the chase for a Big Dance invitation.

Elsewhere in the league, San Diego State responded to a two-loss week by winning twice this week. The Aztecs polished off Nevada on the road – the very thing Boise State was unable to do – and then whacked New Mexico at home to keep the Mountain West competitive. New Mexico could have gained a stranglehold on the league, but Los Lobos finally lost their first conference game on the final weekend of January. UNM just couldn’t hit the side of a barn – the Lobos made just 11 field goal attempts, a total dwarfed by their number of turnovers (17). New Mexico hit just three triples and only nine foul shots. San Diego State hit only three treys and six free throws, but the Aztecs loaded up on two-point baskets with their power game, led by J.J. O’Brien (12 points, 10 rebounds).

By Matt Zemek
DFN Sports Senior Staff Writer

MWC Basketball Week in Review – January 21, 2013

Weekly Mountain West Basketball Scores

Wednesday, January 16

  • Colorado State 79 Air Force 40
  • Fresno State 49 Wyoming 36
  • UNLV 82 San Diego State 75
  • New Mexico 79 Boise State 74 (OT)

Saturday, January 19

  • Colorado State 66 UNLV 61
  • Wyoming 58 San Diego State 45
  • Air Force 91 Boise State 80
  • Nevada 68 Fresno State 61

The Mountain West Conference is going to feature a lot of plot twists this season, so one week in January shouldn’t be seen as anything overly definitive. Yet, the past seven days have certainly forced a few teams to respond in the coming weeks, because if they don’t, they’ll be looking at an NIT berth instead of a spot in the NCAA tournament.

This was a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad week for the Boise State Broncos. The football school ha harbored hopes of making the NCAAs for the first time in almost 20 years. Fresh off an exhilarating road win at Wyoming on a night when four players were suspended, the Broncos hosted the New Mexico Lobos – the defending co-champions of the league – this past Wednesday in what was genuinely the biggest game in the recent history of the Boise State program. A win over New Mexico didn’t merely offer the promise of a big season; it would have fed this team’s confidence and reinforced a deep belief that any adverse situation, any formidable opponent, could be overcome. A win over New Mexico was likely to have a transformative effect on Boise State basketball. A raucous crowd was on hand in Taco Bell Arena to push its hardwood heroes to victory, and for a few moments, it seemed that a sweet triumph was available.

Derrick Marks, who was suspended from the Wyoming game, hit a three-point shot with 1:18 left in the second half to give Boise State a 63-61 lead. One stop could have put the Broncos in a commanding position, but New Mexico smartly worked the ball against Boise State’s defense, creating a Hugh Greenwood layup that tied the score at 63-all with 55 seconds left in regulation. Marks appropriately got the ball on Boise State’s next possession; the Broncos had been riding his hot hand all night long. However, Marks was off the mark on a jumper with 20 seconds left, and the Lobos found the sanctuary of overtime.

With New Mexico leading 71-69, Greenwood – who sent the game into overtime – ensured that there would not be a second overtime stanza. He drained a three with 35 seconds left to push the Lobos’ advantage to five points at 74-69. Boise State did not have an answer, and the Broncos missed their big opportunity to take down an elite team in their conference.

Boise State was so shaken by this loss that it was not able to summon up the energy it needed to handle Air Force this past Saturday. The Broncos’ defense, which was legitimately solid against New Mexico, did not show up against the Falcons, who raced to a 91-80 victory, scoring at least 44 points in each half. Boise State now has a lot of work to do to improve its resume to a point where the NCAA Selection Committee will look upon it favorably.

Other Mountain West teams stumbled this past week. San Diego State lost twice, getting blitzed at home by UNLV and then scoring just nine first-half points in an ugly loss at Wyoming. Speaking of Wyoming, the Cowboys really needed that win over the Aztecs, because they gave away a bad road loss at Fresno State. This was an unsteady week for most teams in the Mountain West; only New Mexico and Colorado State avoided any missteps among NCAA tournament contenders. Among the teams that failed to produce an unblemished week, UNLV should feel the least discouraged. The Rebels should be happy with a road split at San Diego State and Colorado State. Few teams in the league will split those two road games this season.

By Matt Zemek
DFN Sports Senior Staff Writer

MWC Basketball Week in Review – January 14, 2013

Weekly Mountain West Conference Basketball Scores

Wednesday, January 9

  • Air Force 78 Nevada 65
  • Boise State 63 Wyoming 61
  • San Diego State 65 Fresno State 62
  • New Mexico 65 UNLV 60

Saturday, January 12

  • San Diego State 79 Colorado State 72 (OT)
  • Wyoming 59 Nevada 48
  • UNLV 76 Air Force 71 (OT)
  • New Mexico 72 Fresno State 45

The Mountain West Conference is going to be great fun for national college basketball fans this year… and great agony for fans of the specific teams that will compete for 2013 NCAA tournament positioning. The first full week of play in the Mountain West brought forth some backyard battles that are likely to be replicated over the next two months. It’s going to be extremely hard to win almost any game on almost any night, home or away, with or without momentum.

Just look at the ways in which the first two nights of Mountain West Conference action unfolded. On Wednesday – opening night for the league in 2013 – three of the four games were decided by five points or fewer. On Saturday, two games went into overtime, with home favorites barely surviving upset bids by visiting teams from the state of Colorado.

On Wednesday, no game was crazier than the one between Boise State and Wyoming, two legitimate NCAA contenders. Wyoming entered the game unbeaten and had to feel good about its chances when Boise State announced that it would not be playing with one starter and three reserves. Derrick Marks, who had been averaging 16.3 points for the Broncos, was left home for violating team rules. Joining him were reserves Michael Thompson, Kenny Buckner, and Darrious Hamilton. This was not how Boise State head coach Leon Rice wanted his conference season to begin, not in Laramie, Wyo., against the 13-0 Cowboys, who had avoided every landmine on their roster.

Yet, in the spirit of the Mountain West, logic did not lead to a neat and tidy resolution of a conference clash. The road team, the shorthanded team, the team that was supposed to be at a great disadvantage, knocked off the unbeaten club that was playing on its home floor. Boise State’s Jeff Elorriaga calmly drained a three-pointer at the buzzer to give the Broncos an exhilarating two-point win, vaulting them upward in the Mountain West standings and setting up a showdown with defending co-champion New Mexico this upcoming week. The Boise State-New Mexico game will be the biggest Bronco home game in the past 18 years.

Also from Wednesday, San Diego State learned that even against a lower-tier team in the Mountain West, it is going to get a battle. Nobody is expecting much of anything from Fresno State this season, but the Bulldogs pushed the Aztecs for 40 minutes, falling short by only three points. The Aztecs gained a crucial lesson and still walked away with a win.

In the third game of note from Wednesday, New Mexico held off UNLV at home, winning the first matchup involving the three top teams in the conference (SDSU being the third). The Lobos prevailed thanks to their ability to lock down the Rebels’ maddeningly uneven offense.

Speaking of UNLV’s uneven offense, let’s switch to Saturday night’s MWC contests. Vegas scored just 62 points in regulation against Air Force, but the Rebels were able to post 14 points in overtime and escape with a badly needed victory over the upset-minded Falcons. UNLV barely avoided falling to 0-2 in the Mountain West, which would have raised fresh questions about the Rebels’ tournament prospects. While UNLV was holding off a team from Colorado, San Diego State did the same thing, surviving Colorado State’s upset bid on its home floor in San Diego. SDSU guard Chase Tapley scored 12 of the Aztecs’ 16 overtime points, hitting two very tough jump shots to enable his team to overcome a 65-63 deficit in the early stages of the extra period. Colorado State offered robust opposition and should feel confident about its ability to compete with the best teams in the Mountain West, but San Diego state showed why it is the defending co-champion of the league (with New Mexico).

Buckle up, everyone. The thrill ride known as the 2013 Mountain West Conference basketball season has only just begun.

By Matt Zemek
DFN Sports Senior Staff Writer