LAS VEGAS, Nev. -- The Lobos and Aztecs are playing basketball like it’s 2014 all over again.
That was the last time the University of New Mexico and San Diego State met for the men’s Mountain West tournament championship and automatic berth in the Big Dance. UNM won that 2014 final 64-58 over the Aztecs to complete a back-to-back-to-back MWC Tournament trifecta.
The Lobos also knocked off the Aztecs for the 2012 title and UNLV for the 2013 crown. But since winning three titles in a row, the Lobos had gone 0-3 over the past three tournaments before this current run to the championship under first-year Coach Paul Weir.
Flash forward to Friday night at the Thomas & Mack Center.
The Lobos, behind another balanced attack and pressure defense, wore down Utah State for a convincing 83-68 semifinal victory to advance to the title game of the MWC Tournament for the first time since the Cameron Bairstow-led 2014 team that beat the Aztecs.
The resurgent Lobos face the streaking Aztecs (21-10) in Saturday’s tournament final at 3 p.m. Pacific time on CBS Sports Network.
The Lobos have won seven in a row and are 19-14 overall after a 3-8 start to the season. The Aztecs, who were 5-7 in conference play, have since won eight straight, including an impressive demolition of top-seeded and regular season champion Nevada, 90-73, in Friday’s other semifinal.
“Right now we’re moving forward, on to the next game,” Weir said. “San Diego State is a tremendous team. We’re in a really good place.”
UNM moved into the finals thanks to a stellar showing from a trio of Lobos and despite any scoring from their top sharpshooter.
Junior Troy Simons paced the Lobos with 17 points. Seniors Joe Furstinger and Sam Logwood scored 16 points apiece. Anthony Mathis, the team’s top 3-point threat and leading scorer (12.7), went 0-of-4 from the floor to go scoreless for only the third time this season.
The Lobos trailed 22-17 with 8:51 left in the first half before going on a 19-0 run to take a commanding 14-point lead and minutes later entered halftime ahead 37-25.
The Lobos built their advantage to as much as 23 points in the second half at 53-30 before Utah State regrouped and made a charge that cut the deficit to 77-68 with 1:51 to play. The Lobos finished the game on a 6-0 run to close it out and extend their improbable run for one more game with an NCAA Tournament berth on the line.
SAM I AM
Asked about what it feels like to play in the finals after failures of years past, Logwood responded: “Definitely one of the best highlights of my career. Probably the best. It’s just a great feeling, like just fighting through adversity and finally getting what I’ve worked so hard for, just my teammates, as well. We’ve been through a lot.”
One of the most thrilling plays of the game, highlighted by Lobos fans on Twitter, came on a one-handed “Vegas Flush” by freshman Maluach Makuach, whose ferocious dunk brought the Lobos out of their seats. Makuach finished the game with nine points.