The Mountain West Conference tournament championship between No. 8 San Diego State and No. 20 New Mexico served as the rubber match between the two best teams in the league. This time New Mexico prevailed to win 64-58. The teams were tied 56-56 with 1:21 left on the clock. From there, the Lobos finished with an 8-2 run to capture the tournament crown for the third season in a row.
The first half was low scoring with lots of missed three point shots. New Mexico went on a 9-2 run to close out the first half and take a 27-22 lead. The Aztecs were initially effective in keeping the Lobos bigs from catching the ball down low. The Lobos took 11 three pointers, hitting on just two. But it was the free throw line that was the difference. New Mexico was 9 of 11 from the charity stripe in the first half while San Diego State was 0 for 2.
Only 11 first half fouls were called compared to 30 second half fouls. The Lobos made the most of it, sinking 22 of 27 free throw attempts. The Aztecs were just 13 of 22.
In the first half, Kendall Williams lead the Lobos with 10 points, going 5 for 5 from the free throw line. Xavier Thames led the Aztecs with nine points. Skylar Spencer had an effective first half with six points and eight rebounds.
The second half started to turn for the Aztecs as their swarming defense led to turnovers and easy baskets. San Diego State went on an 8-0 run and took the lead 30-27. The teams battled back and forth and the Aztecs were up 37-34 when Thames fouled Cullen Neal, who banked in a three pointer with an "and one" for a four-point play. It also cost Thames his fourth foul and time on the bench.
In the final 1:15, it was Bairstow and Williams that made the difference for the Lobos. Bairstow made an aggressive move to the basket, made the shot and the free throw to give the Lobos a 59-57 lead. Williams hit an NBA range three pointer with the shot clock running out to put the Lobos up by five. Thames drew contact from Bairstow on a three pointer at the other end but missed the shot. Bairstow grabbed the rebound and was fouled by Thames. Thames was elbowed in the head by Bairstow, but again a no call. Bairstow made his free throws and the rest is history.
The Aztecs didn't have the size and strength down low to match Bairstow and Alex Kirk. Josh Davis and J.J. O'Brien got pushed around and weren't as effective as usual. Skylar Spencer had an excellent first half but was held to no points and two rebounds in the second half.
For the game, Thames led the Aztecs with 15 points. Dwayne Polee II had 14 points and was 3 for 4 beyond the arc. Winston Shepard had 13 points but was only 4 for 15 on field goal attempts. The Aztecs had their opportunities, but they shot just 35.7% from the field and below 60% from the free throw line.
Most people were hoping for this matchup after the teams split their regular season games, with San Diego State capturing the regular season crown after beating New Mexico in San Diego just a week ago. New Mexico definitely wanted another crack at San Diego State after failing to sustain a 16 point lead in the second half of their last matchup. They got their wish and made the most of it.
For San Diego State, it was their seventh MWC tournament championship game, and they are now 4-3 in those games. San Diego State is projected by many to be a four seed in the West Region in the NCAA tournament. New Mexico grabbed the automatic bid.