Posted: 10:24 a.m. Saturday, March 16, 2013
By Adam Fox
Who would have it any other way?
The Mountain West tournament is down to just two teams remaining, and like a fortune teller predicting your fate, they seem written in the stars.
New Mexico triumphed over the San Diego State Aztecs on Friday 60-50, with contributions from their maddeningly consistent big men that typically spell disaster for all who attempt to defend them. Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow have combined for 52 points and 31 rebounds over the first two tournament games. New Mexico hasn't shot particularly well at just a shade over 40%, but in holding opponents to a staggering 31%, the door to victory is always left ajar for the 15th-ranked Lobos.
The Lobos boast the recently named Mountain West Player of the Year in Kendall Williams who has failed to settle into the tournament so far, recording just 13 points,10 assists and 9 rebounds. The fact that he hasn't hit a stride yet has to worry the Rebels as the Lobos have seemingly endless options on offense, including a back-to-back-to-back three-point barrage by Tony Snell that put the veritable hammer down on San Diego State.
UNLV had an impressive win of their own, knocking off the upstart Colorado State Rams, 75-65 in front of a sold-out home crowd. Freshman of the Year Anthony Bennett seems to be catching fire at the right time, notching 19 points on Friday to bring his impressive total to a team-high 42 for the tournament. The Rebels got 21 points from three-point specialist Katin Reinhardt, which has to draw the attention of the Lobos' coaching staff; a successful attack beyond the arc had given New Mexico fits during the regular season.
The Rebels have the bigs to be able to hang tough with the monolithic men of New Mexico in Colton Iverson--the conference's leading rebounder--and Khem Birch, the Defensive Player of the Year. The Rebels have certainly faced their fair share of misfortune in the Mountain West proceedings, but they are stacked with more than enough talent to clamp down on a fourth title.
The prospects of a neutral court become increasingly hostile when the Rebels call it home, but it might not matter for New Mexico. An estimated 6,000 Lobo fans have made the 8-hour trek from Albuquerque, giving a decidedly Pit-like advantage to their semifinals win.
What happens in Vegas might very well stay in Vegas, but for the two acclaimed schools, a ring affixed to each finger would certainly make for an impressive souvenir.