No. 18 Aztecs Fall In Title Match With Lobos, 68-59

March 10, 2012

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San Diego State's DeShawn Stephens

LAS VEGAS (AP) - Tony Snell made four 3-pointers in the first half and finished with 14 points, and Drew Gordon had 12 points and 12 rebounds as New Mexico overpowered top-seeded and No. 18 San Diego State 68-59 to win the Mountain West Conference tournament championship on Saturday night.

Coach Steve Alford's Lobos (27-6) are headed to the NCAA tournament for the second time in three seasons. This is their first MWC tournament championship since 2005.

"Our league is deserving of four bids," Alford said. "You play the tournament for seeding in the NCAA tournament. We're the automatic qualifier. We had the best record in the league. We obviously feel like we deserve the best seed. It doesn't mean one of the other teams can't have an equal seed, but we're definitely deserving of the best seed that's handed out to the Mountain West Conference."

Kendall Williams also had 14 points for the Lobos, who shared the regular-season title with San Diego State but were the No. 2 seed due to a tiebreaker.

San Diego State (26-7), which never led, is expected to get an at-large NCAA bid. Chase Tapley scored a game-high 25 for SDSU while Jamaal Franklin, the MWC Player of the Year, had 16 points and 10 rebounds.

"The most important thing that I told our guys is how proud I am of what they've done throughout this season," said SDSU's Steve Fisher, whose team wasn't expected to be this good after losing four starters, including Kawhi Leonard to the NBA, off last year's team that reached the Sweet Sixteen and had a school-record 34 wins. "And they are, in our minds, champions and deserving champions. And the beauty is tomorrow we're going to have a 180 in terms of how we feel. But right now we don't feel good, and we shouldn't.

Playing before a loud, partisan crowd at UNLV's Thomas & Mack Center, the Lobos set a fast pace early, dominating down low and behind the arc, and the cold-shooting Aztecs never caught up.

New Mexico had a 17-point lead with 6:34 left before going cold in the last four minutes, allowing SDSU to get within five points with 1:21 to go.

Snell hit his first 3-pointer less than two minutes in for a 5-2 lead and then Gordon converted a three-point play to make it 8-1. Williams made a jumper in the key and Gordon scored off a rebound to make it 12-4.

"I felt pretty good shooting the ball, so I figured, just keep shooting," Snell said.

Snell's third 3-pointer gave New Mexico an 18-6 lead with 10:28 before halftime. He hit his fourth one 27 seconds before the buzzer to make it 34-23 at halftime.

San Diego got within eight points twice late in the first half but could get no closer. With SDSU trailing 29-21, DeShawn Stephens missed the front end of a one-and-one. Kendall Williams answered by making both ends of a one-and-one to push the lead back to double digits.

The Lobos didn't slow down in the second half. After SDSU's James Rahon missed a 3-pointer on the opening possession, Gordon dunked and then Hugh Greenwood, a freshman point guard from Australia, hit a 3 for a 39-23 lead.

A night earlier, the Lobos fell behind No. 20 UNLV 12-0 and 17-4 before rallying late in the first half.

The Aztecs were trying to win their third straight MWC tourney title.

"We know what it feels like to be where they are right now, still on that court celebrating," Fisher said. "That's where we expected to be, which is why it hurts when you're not. And yet the reality of it is we're not and they are.

"I thought that we at times played too fast, did ourselves in a little bit," Fisher added. "New Mexico probably had something to do with that also.

The teams split the regular-season series, with SDSU rallying from a 10-0 deficit to win by five points in Albuquerque, and the Lobos winning by 10 in San Diego.

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