Stevens: Lobos Grab MW Crown 68-59 Over SDSU; Gordon Is MVP
March 10, 2012
2012 Mountain West Championship: New Mexico 68, San Diego State 59
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
The kiss-your-sister type ending of the 2012 Mountain West race turned into stomp-your-brother closure for Steve Alford's amazing New Mexico Lobos.
If there ever was any doubt who had the most complete Mountain West team on both ends of the court, that question was emphatically answered in the Las Vegas Thomas & Mack Center as the last team standing was a team of complete Lobos.
The Lobos did it on offense. The Lobos did it on defense. And it was New Mexico's Drew Gordon who went head-to-head with the best players in the Mountain and ended up as the tournament's MVP.
New Mexico completed its "statement" run through the three-day MW show by slapping down No. 18 San Diego State 68-59 Saturday in the championship game. Alford's Lobos already had locked down an NCAA bid, but this win brings with it the league's automatic bid and surely improves UNM's seeding for the NCAA Tournament.
"I can't even explain how it feels right now," said UNM's Tony Snell. "Like a dream come true. We had our ups and downs, but we stuck together. We fought through it."
The Lobos path to the MW title wasn't just over No. 18 San Diego State. The Lobos also slapped down the UNLV Rebels on their home court to hand them their first home loss of 2012.
The NCAA Selection Committee obviously has to take note of what these 27-6 Lobos have done to pad their postseason resume.
"To come here and play the way we did for three days is a remarkable feat for our young men," said Alford. "I couldn't be prouder of a group of guys. I've said it all year long, I think they've gone under appreciated."
For sure, the Lobos came into the Thomas & Mack with a chip on their shoulders. For sure, Alford has done his best to use that extra motivation to spur his Lobos to a higher level of focus at both ends of the court.
The focus kicked in along with poise on Friday as UNM rallied from a 17-4 hole to beat Vegas. The focus kicked in early as the Lobos took control of the Aztecs and never let loose of those Aztec necks -- or the lead.
"Everything that they've earned thus far, they've definitely deserved," said Alford.
The Lobos used four 3-pointers from Tony Snell in the first half to take control of this championship battle. "I felt pretty good shooting the ball, so I figured, `just keep shooting,'" said Snell.
Gordon ended up with 12 points and 12 rebounds and Kendall Williams chipped in 14 points. The tourney title was UNM's first since 2005. It was the Lobos' fourth crown (three regular-season titles) in four years.
"I've been saying this whole time that we need to end up on top, be able to look back and kind of laugh at some of the honors that weren't awarded to our team, especially on the defensive end," said Gordon, referring to the league's top defensive team not landing any players on the All-MW Defensive Team.
The Lobos won't be laughing at the league teams or players that deserve to be respected, but the Lobos definitely got to strut their stuff last -- and maybe cause a few voters to reconsider their votes.
The three-game sweep to the MW title also should push the Lobos back into the Top 25 prior to the NCAA wars that erupt across the country next week.
"We've been flirting with the rankings for quite some time now," said Gordon. "Hopefully this will help us out a little bit and boost our stock and our ratings."
Any team looking at the Lobos will take stock in what the Lobos throw out on the court. They beat Top 25 UNLV two out of three and beat Top 25 SDSU two out of three. You combine those wins with UNM's 27 overall wins and the two league titles, and this is not a team anyone should take lightly.
Especially the way the Lobos play defense and combine athleticism with system to throw out what should be considered the best offense in the league. The Lobos can beat you with one-on-one talent and run-and-gun transition.
They also know what to do in the half-court game. A few other MW teams seem to have a problem when pure athleticism isn't working -- or scoring. Maybe because only the Lobos have the 6-foot-9 Gordon inside, who played with a chip on his shoulder along the mobility of a small forward.
"No, it's not coming off . We've got stuff to accomplish," said Gordon of that invisible chip. "The season is not over. Games are still being played. We still have another go at another championship. So, in my eyes, it's still there (chip) and bigger than ever."
The Aztecs (26-7) never led in the game and are expected to get an at-large NCAA bid along with UNLV. The Aztecs got a game-high 25 points from Chase Tapley and Jamaal Franklin, who edged Gordon for MW Player of The Year, had a solid game with 16 points and 10 boards.
"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.
"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.
"But we also have the opportunity to be playing next week, which we will have, and the following week, and the following week, which we could," added Fisher, the MWC Coach of the Year.
The Aztecs were trying to win their third straight MWC tourney title. The Lobos said, "No."
"We know what it feels like to be where they (Lobos) 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."
This Thomas & Mack court is supposed to belong to Rebels, but for Saturday's championship, it rocked in the red of Lobos, who continued to throw down love and energy on their Lobos.
UNM had a fat 17-point lead with 6:34 left before the Aztecs played with that back-to-the-wall desperation to cut UNM lead to five points with 1:21 to play. The Lobos slapped down that rally and danced on the Thomas & Mack court as Lobo fans poured onto the court.
The Lobos threw out the standard time-tested celebration - donning championship caps, cutting down nets and passing the big trophy around.
The big question now is what seed will be handed down to UNM by the NCAA Selection Committee and if Colorado State also will go NCAA dancing.
"We're obviously hoping we get four bids. Our league is deserving of four bids," said Alford. "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.
"That 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."