by Tomas Lopez
Steve Alford's top-seeded Lobos survived a dismal offensive performance in their Mountain West Conference tournament opener. No. 14 New Mexico Lobos, which went over 11 minutes without hitting a field goal in a win over Wyoming, hopes for better production when it meets fourth-seeded San Diego State in the semifinals at Las Vegas on Friday night.
The San Diego State Aztecs, who split a pair of regular-season games with New Mexico, may have popped Boise State's bubble in Wednesday's quarterfinals. Once ranked nationally, San Diego State would like a bit of revenge in this game. The two teams met in the MWC tournament title game last season, with New Mexico winning 68-59.
New Mexico Lobos (27-5): The Lobos won the regular season-title for the second straight year and Alford was named the conference's coach of the year. Kendall Williams, who won MWC Player of the Year honors, was limited to six points in Wednesday's 59-46 win over Wyoming. But the Lobos won with strong defense, holding the Cowboys to 32 percent shooting in front of a large fan base who made the trip to Las Vegas. "I guess in the eyes of the beholder of what's pretty and ugly, in March, when you win by 13 -- to me -- it's pretty," Alford said. Australian Cameron Bairstow led the Lobos with 14 points and eight rebounds as he filled in for Alex Kirk, who was saddled with foul trouble most of the game. New Mexico has won seven of its last eight games.
San Diego State Aztecs (22-9): The Aztecs have had a hard time getting on a roll in the second half of the season. They've won eight of their last 15 games after opening the year 14-2. While they still appear to be a lock for an NCAA Tournament berth, they would enhance their seeding dramatically with a tourney title. The Aztecs have plenty of star power in Jamaal Franklin and Chase Tapley and a strong RPI of 28. They also hammered New Mexico 55-34 earlier in the season. Franklin, viewed as a potential lottery pick in the upcoming NBA draft, scored 19 points and grabbed eight rebounds in San Diego State's last outing. SDSU is 5-3 in its last eight games against New Mexico.
1. The top four seeds all won their openers Wednesday.
2. New Mexico has won the MWC tournament title twice.
3. Aztec Xavier Thames has scored in double figures in four of his last five games and appears to be nearly 100 percent after injuring his back.
NCAA Basketball Prediction: San Diego State 74, New Mexico 72.
kendall williams - cameron bairstow - jamaal franklin - new mexico lobos - san diego state aztecs - steve alford - xavier thames