The 20th-ranked New Mexico Lobos try to make it back to the championship round of the 15th annual Mountain West Conference Tournament, as they challenge the Boise State Broncos in the semifinals tonight at the Thomas & Mack Center.
The second-seeded Lobos, winners of the 2012 and 2013 tournament titles with victories against San Diego State and UNLV, respectively, began their quest for a three-peat on Thursday night as they dominated seventh-seeded Fresno State, 93-77. With the victory UNM, a squad which has won this tournament a total of three times in all, moved to 14-11 in the event since it began back in 2000.
As for the sixth-seeded Broncos, one of the many programs that have made the move from the Western Athletic Conference to the MWC in recent years, their journey in the tourney began on Wednesday night with an 83-52 thrashing of San Jose State and continued with a 75-62 romp over third-seeded Nevada last night.
The teams split their two meetings during the regular season, each winning on their home floor, which means the all-time series now stands at 5-1 in favor of the Lobos. The winner this time around will go to the tournament title game on Saturday and face the winner of the UNLV/San Diego State clash for the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Boise State led by as many as 11 points in the first half against the Wolf Pack last night, but the Broncos ended up converting a mere eight field goals in the period and went cold down the stretch, allowing Nevada to knot the score at 32-32. The Broncos bounced back in the second half with not only 52.4 percent accuracy from the floor but also 17-of-20 at the free-throw line to cruise to the win. Ryan Watkins was responsible for a double-double consisting of 15 points and 10 rebounds, while Anthony Drmic and Derrick Marks accounted for 17 and 16 points, respectively, although they each turned the ball over four times as well. Marks connected on all 11 of his free-throw tries to compensate for a meager 2-of-9 effort from the floor.
The Lobos opened the meeting with Fresno State on a 14-3 run and never looked back, leading by as many as 19 as they cruised to the comfortable win on Thursday night in Sin City. Cameron Bairstow again showed why many believe he should have been named the MWC Player of the Year over Xavier Thames of San Diego State, as he registered yet another double-double with 21 points and a team-best 10 rebounds. Also scoring 21 points for UNM was Alex Kirk who seemed to have his way in the paint, even though he cleared just six rebounds.
Kendall Williams filled out his stat line nicely with 17 points, nine assists and six rebounds, helping to disguise the fact that he shot only 1-of-5 behind the 3-point line. Then again, the entire New Mexico roster struggled on the perimeter with only 4-of-14 accuracy. In addition to posting a 40-25 rebounding advantage, the Lobos also generated a 31-19 scoring edge on the glass.