New Mexico (26-6) vs. (18) San Diego State (26-6)
Saturday, March 10, 7:00 p.m. (ET)
The Sports Network
By Gregg Xenakes, Associate College Basketball Editor
FACTS & STATS: Site: Thomas & Mack Center (18,500) -- Las Vegas, Nevada. Television: NBCSN. Home Record: UNM 14-2, SDSU 17-2. Away Record: UNM 8-3, SDSU 7-4. Neutral Record: UNM 4-1, SDSU 2-0. Conference Record: UNM 10-4, SDSU 10-4. Series Record: New Mexico leads, 39-32.
GAME NOTES: Appearing in the title game for the fourth straight season, the 18th-ranked San Diego State Aztecs shoot for their fifth Mountain West Conference Tournament Championship this evening as they clash with the New Mexico Lobos at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.
The top-seeded Aztecs, the two-time defending champs in this event, are now into the finals for the sixth time in the 13th edition of the tourney. They are lucky to be here in the championship round, with an opportunity to earn the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, given how tough the first game was in the quarterfinals against the Boise State Broncos. Thankfully, Jamaal Franklin took matters into his own hands in the final seconds and knocked down a heavily-contested three-pointer at the buzzer on Thursday night to give SDSU the 65-62 win.
Last night's outing with Colorado State was less stressful for San Diego State as the team walked away with a 79-69 victory over the Rams.
As for the second-seeded Lobos, they were facing off against the Runnin' Rebels on the home floor of UNLV in the semifinals last night. UNM didn't back down from the challenge and came away with the 72-67 victory, the fourth in a row for the team as it advanced to the title game for the first time since winning it all in 2005 against Utah (60-56).
The teams split their two regular-season dates, which each winning on the other's home floor. First, it was SDSU that delivered a 75-70 win in The Pit back in the middle of January and then a month later UNM returned the favor with a 77-67 triumph at Viejas Arena which means the all-time series now favors the Lobos by a count of 39-22.
Drew Gordon won the interior battle against Mike Moser last night as the UNM forward delivered a double-double with 19 points and 13 rebounds, as the Lobos slipped by for the victory in enemy territory. Also scoring in double figures for New Mexico were Tony Snell and Demetrius Walker with 15 and 12 points, respectively. The team knocked down 52.0 percent from the field in order to offset 13 turnovers. A regular in the double-double department, Gordon is now averaging 13.4 points and 10.9 rebounds for the Lobos through 32 games, the team beating up opponents on the glass by an average of seven rebounds per game. Thanks to Kendall Williams (11.9 ppg) and Snell (10.9 ppg), the squad is also outscoring the competition by 14.2 ppg.
In a game that experienced five ties and nine lead changes, it was the defense of the Aztecs in the second half that made the difference as the unit held Colorado State to just 2-of-11 shooting behind the three-point line and 35.5 percent from the floor overall in the frame, en route to the 10-point decision. Jamaal Franklin, the reason why SDSU was in the semifinals in the first place, finished with 19 points and six rebounds, followed by Chase Tapley with 17 points, six assists and a couple of steals. James Rahon was back as a double-digit scorer with 15 points and Garrett Green contributed 10 off the bench. Jamaal Franklin, the leading scorer for the Aztecs in four of the last five games, is posting 17.3 ppg and is also clearing close to eight rebounds per game, followed by Tapley (15.4 ppg) and Xavier Thames (10.5 ppg) as the other primary scorers. Thames has also handed out 123 assists in order to help the offense along.
A bit more disciplined under head coach Steve Alford, the Lobos have been trying to earn respect all season while living in the shadows of both SDSU and UNLV. A win here would go a long way in earning that respect.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: New Mexico 67, San Diego State 63
03/10 10:31:04 ET