UNM takes UNLV, 2nd straight MWC Tourney

The No. 14 New Mexico Lobos became the first Mountain West Conference 1-seed to win the MWC Tournament since 2006 Saturday, beating UNLV 63-56 before a record-breaking MWC Tourney audience on Saturday in Las Vegas, Nev. With the win, the Lobos secured the MWC's automatic bid to next week's NCAA Tournament, a second consecutive tournament title and the sixth MWC championship in the past five years.

Tony Snell scored 21 points on 8 of 11 shooting (a smokin' 72 percent, plus 5 of 7 on 3-pointers – 71 percent) to lead all scorers. The performance, which included scoring 13 of the Lobos final 17 points –  capped a great three days for Snell as he earned the tournament MVP award.

As great a performance as Snell had offensively he and his teammates may have surpassed it defensively – limiting the Rebels to a 9 of 29 (31%) shooting performance in the second half and 20 of 59 (34%) for the game. UNLV freshman phenom started the game scoring the Rebels first 11 points but was held to just four points the rest of the game for 15 points and 11 rebounds total.

"I've said it, we'll put our starting five up against anybody," said head coach Steve Alford. "They're talented. They understand winning.  They understand the ebb and flow of a game, the importance of (defensive) stops, coming out of timeouts, getting to the free-throw line.  Whatever it may be, they have a really good understanding of that."

Cameron Bairstow added nine points and seven rebounds against UNLV and joined Snell on the All-Tournament team. Bairstow's fellow Australian Hugh Greenwood also added nine points on 3 of 4 shooting, including 3 of 3 from 3-point range. The Lobos got scoring from seven of eight players who entered the game and finished with 16 assists total – seven coming from MWC Player of the Year Kendall Williams, who added 12 points as well.

"(Today) definitely shows how unselfish we are because the Player of the Year, just tried to move the ball around," said Snell. "We're definitely unselfish for each other.  We like to see each other get going and make buckets."

The Rebels came into the game as 2 ½ point favorites and were the odds on favorite to win the tournament, something that did not escape the eyes and ears of New Mexico players, who said they used it as motivation.

"We knew we've always been the underdog - that's what I love about this team," said Snell. "We're underdogs, but we still like to go out and prove people wrong, that we're good enough to win championships."

Bairstow agreed.

"As Tony said, we've always played with that chip on our shoulder," said Bairstow. "We don't get a lot of national recognition.  That's fine with us.  We just try to go out every game and try to prove ourselves."

The Lobos and Rebels dueled evenly early before Greenwood hit a pair of back-to-back 3-pointers to give UNM a 21-15 cushion with 10:21 left in the first half.

New Mexico held the lead in that range for much of the rest of the half, relying on their defense and getting the largely partisan UNM crowd howling to ear crushing levels before UNLV mounted a rally.

Snell sank a trey with 1:43 left that seemed to give New Mexico a healthy cushion. But after a missed 3-pointer by Jamal Fenton, UNLV set up for a final shot, which freshman Katin Reinhardt sank at the buzzer rto trim the Lobo lead to 34-32 at halftime.

The Rebels tied the game on the first shot of the second half  then the two teams traded runs to end up tied 44-44 with 12:49 left in the game.

The two teams jostled a bit more before Snell single-handedly set off the Lobo faithful with a seven point outburst – to give UNM a 54-47 lead.

UNLV trimmed the lead to 55-53 on a pair of back-to-back treys by Bryce DeJean-Jones at the two minute mark. But Snel responded with his final 3-pointer, a high arcing shot that set off a massive cheer with 1:05 left in the game to give the Lobos a 59-53 lead.

Williams sank a pair of free throws and then finished the sequence with a steal and thunderous dunk before DeJean-Jones sank one last inconsequential trey to end the scoring.

New Mexico finished the game shooting 46 percent (23 of 50) and 47 percent (10 of 21) in the crucial second half. The Lobos also landed 9 of 19 3-pointers in the game (47 perecnt).

DeJean-Jones paced UNLV with 19 points on 6 of 16 shooting and fellow guard Katin Reinhardt added 11 points on 4 of 16 shooting. Bairstow and Greenwood of UNM both finished with seven rebounds each but the Rebels finished with a 41-29 advantage on the boards.

New Mexico, which improved to 29-5 on the season. committed just seven turnovers in the game – the second lowest total ever in a MWC title game. UNLV fell to 25-9 and awaits an NCAA at-large bid Sunday.

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