By J.R. Oppenheim
LAS VEGAS – New Mexico gets another crack at San Diego State for a Mountain West title. This time, it’ll be for the conference tournament crown.
Exactly one week after the Aztecs rallied back to claim the regular-season crown, the Lobos will square off at the Thomas & Mack Center Saturday afternoon in the men’s tournament finale.
UNM, ranked No. 20 nationally, moved into the game following a narrow 70-67 victory over Boise State in Thursday night’s late semifinal. SDSU advanced following its win over UNLV.
The Lobos will go for their third straight MW tournament championship while the Aztecs will make their fifth title-game appearance in six years.
The Lobos beat Boise State 70-67 to advance to the Mountain West tournament final against San Diego State on Saturday.
New Mexico guard Deshawn Delaney drives through the Boise State defense Thursday night at the Thomas & Mack Center. The Lobos won 70-67 and will face San Diego State for the Mountain West tournament title on Sunday at 4 p.m. MT.
“It’s been in the back of our minds since that game,” UNM guard Hugh Greenwood said, referring to the rubber game rematch. “But with us and with our season, we’ve always taken it one step at a time, one game at a time. Took care of Fresno, took care of Boise. Now we want a rematch. The city of Albuquerque wants a rematch.”
The Lobos withstood a frantic Boise State rally in the second half sparked buy guard Thomas Bropleh. He torched UNM for 11 points after halftime that cut a 35-29 Lobo lead to a 51-49.
On the UNM possession after Bropleh brought the score to within two points, Cameron Bairstow collected the ball in the post and went up for a shot. Bropleh jumped with Bairstow to contest the shot but brought his arm across Bairstow’s neck, taking the Lobo big man to the court for a hard foul.
After Bairstow got back onto his feet, Bropleh and Bairstow embraced. Bairstow required medical attention for a bloody nose during the ensuing media timeout.
At the same time the referees looked at a replay of the foul and ruled Bropleh committed a Flagrant 2 foul, deemed intentional with vicious intent and leading to an immediate ejection. Bropleh finished the game with 16 points.
“I’ll just say this, the kid made a play on the ball,” UNM coach Craig Neal said, who shook Bropleh’s hand after the ruling. “He’s playing hard, competing a high level. I just think he got caught with the rule. The rule is that anything around the head, that’s a Flagrant 2. I think he made a good play on the ball and ended up getting Cam’s head.”
Boise State coach Leon Rice said he hopes the incident doesn’t cause Blopleh to be judged negatively.
“I mean, like I said, I know it wasn’t anything dirty,” Rice said. “He wouldn’t do that. My guys would never do that. So it affected me to lose a senior that was playing good, no question. Then my guys rallied around it.”
The Broncos never let UNM up by more than seven points for the remainder of the game. Boise State cut the lead to one point, 66-65, with 22 second left after a Jeff Elorriaga 3-pointer.
From there, UNM guard Kendall Williams connected on two free throws for a 67-65 edge. He airballed a free throw moments earlier. Boise State’s Derrick Marks then opted for a quick 2-point field goal rather than a triple. Two more Bairstow free throws secured a 70-67 margin with three seconds left and Boise State turned the ball over with a backcourt violation.
Bairstow led UNM’s scoring output with 23 points, including 15 from the foul line. As a team UNM made 22 free throws on 36 attempts, compared to Boise State’s 11 of 17.
Guards Kendall Williams and Delaney added 16 and 14 points, respectively. UNM hit 43.8 percent on field goals (21 of 48), including 6 of 18 from 3-point range.
Derrick Marks also reached double figures for Boise State, scoring a team-high 20 points. The Broncos were 39 percent from the field (24 of 61) and 8 of 25 on 3-pointers.
SDSU 59, UNLV 51
Forward Dwayne Polee II and guard Xavier Thames combined for 35 points to spearhead the No. 8 Aztecs into the title bout.
SDSU won despite a poorer shooting percentage than UNLV. The Aztecs finished at 36.4 percent (20 of 55) while the Runnin’ Rebels shot 41.3 percent (19 of 46). However, SDSU converted 14 free throws as UNLVattempted only 13.
After a 29-24 halftime lead the Mountain West regular-season champion Aztecs led by 15 points midway through the second half.
Polee edged Thames for the high-game total, amassing 18 points. Thames, who won the conference’s player of the year award, chipped in 17.
Guard Deville Smith led the Runnin’ Rebels in scoring with 17 points, and guard Bryce Dejean-Jones added 10.