This is what we hoped for. The top seeds made it to the MW finals. New Mexico and San Diego State meet Saturday afternoon to tangle for the trophy.
SDSU navigated a tough bracket to get here; easily defeating USU and then knocking down UNLV on their home court. On the other side, UNM downed Fresno State and then barely escaped an angry and determined Boise State.
The Lobos and the Aztecs have had a great rivalry this season. UNM was projected to win the MW conference by most experts. SDSU was projected fourth, behind BSU and UNLV. Since then, SDSU vaulted into the top ten after impressive wins over Kansas, Creighton, and Marquette.
UNM started the season ranked 19th. After an early loss to UMass, the Lobos dropped out of the national rankings while the Aztecs ascended. For a while there SDSU was the heavy favorite to win the MW conference.
Meanwhile, the Lobos toiled and labored to stay relevant. It took a while, but finally the Lobos got their chance when the No. 6 Aztecs came to Albuquerque. This wasn't the first marquee opportunity for the Lobos. After all, they had defeated Marquette and Cincinnati and lost to Kansas.
New Mexico capitalized. The Lobos wrecked the Atztecs, 58-44. Prominence followed. UNM just barely cracked the AP Poll at 25. A week later the Lobos were ranked 21st. Following a victory over Air Force, UNM went to Viejas Arena to butt heads with the Aztecs for the regular season title.
The Lobos played a great 28 minutes. Then Steve Fisher brilliantly employed a 1-3-1 defense that stalled the Lobo's offense that eventually led to an Aztec's 51-48 victory.
With that victory the Aztec's claimed many of the regular season honors, including Player of the Year (Xavier Thames) and Coach of the Year (Fisher). Although well deserved, many felt that UNM's Cameron Bairstow was the rightful recipient of Player of the Year. But hey, to the winner goes the spoils.
Which brings us to tonight's game. Winner takes all. Bairstow and Thames can once and for all settle who is the the real Player of the Year. With the series split, this game acts as a tie breaker. More than that, the winner takes home bragging rights. The Aztecs and the Lobos have been dominant in the Mountain West the past five years or so.
Each team won on their home turf. Tonight's game is on a neutral site, so the outcome should be equally neutral, except that the site isn't neutral. Lobo fans travel well and wreak havoc wherever they go. That's why I think that the Lobos find a way to top the Aztecs and balance the scales.