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.