Mountain West gets 4 teams in NCAA tournament

The Mountain West Conference got exactly what it wanted Sunday

with four NCAA tournament bids and the highest seeding ever for one

of its schools.

New Mexico (29-4) is the third seed in the East and will face

No. 14-seed Montana in the opening round, with a possible

second-round matchup against sixth-seeded Marquette.

Also heading to the Big Dance are San Diego State (25-8), which

earned the league’s automatic bid by winning the conference

tournament, UNLV (25-8) and BYU (29-5).

The four teams are the most the league has ever sent to the NCAA

tournament in its 11-year history. Three times the Mountain West

has sent three teams, and the highest seed before this year was

Utah with a No. 5 seed last year, when it lost to No. 12 Arizona in

the opening round.

UNLV and San Diego State sealed their NCAA bids at the Mountain

West tournament at the Thomas & Mack Center over the weekend,

where the Aztecs edged eighth-ranked New Mexico 72-69, snapping the

Lobos’ 15-game winning streak, and UNLV upset No. 14 BYU in two

sensational semifinals Friday night.

“This is high-level basketball,” Fisher said after the Aztecs

beat the Runnin’ Rebels 55-45 in the title game Saturday. “Anybody

that watched the New Mexico-San Diego State game, if there were no

labels on the jersey, they would say, ‘This is as good as it gets

anywhere.’ And it was. I think we displayed that. BYU and Vegas was

more of the same.

“This is a really good league that has nine teams in it,”

Fisher added, “and four of us are going to go to the NCAA

tournament. That’s representing your league well.”

Now, Fisher suggested, it’s time to really get some respect.

“Now what we need to do is step up and win a few games,” he

said. “That’s the challenge we will all face.”

All four Mountain West teams are playing Thursday, with the

Lobos in San Jose, Calif. The 11th-seeded Aztecs will face No.

6-seeded Tennessee in the Midwest Regional at Providence, R.I.,

while BYU and UNLV will play in Oklahoma City.

The Cougars are the seventh seed in the West and will face

Florida. The Runnin’ Rebels are the eighth seed in the Midwest and

face Northern Iowa.

New Mexico is hoping to go further than any Mountain West team –

Utah in 2005 and UNLV in 2008 both reached the round of 16.

Lobos coach Steve Alford said he was just hoping that they

wouldn’t have to play a bigger team early on. With none of his 10

players taller than 6-foot-8, the only team that gave New Mexico

matchup problems has been San Diego State, which handed them two of

their four losses.

“That’s what’s so amazing about this team: to play 33 games and

win 29 with nobody over 6-foot-8 is amazing,” Alford said.

Montana has a couple of big players in 7-footer Derek Selvig and

6-11 Brian Qvale but aren’t expected to pose a mismatch for the

Lobos. Marquette and Washington also have a couple of bigger

players but don’t have a huge advantage over the Lobos.