Live Blog: Mountain West Championship

by March 16, 2013

by Eldon Khorshidi | @eldonadam

LAS VEGAS — What’s up, SLAM Fam? We’re live from the Thomas & Mack Center in beautiful Las Vegas for the Mountain West Championship, and first things first: The place is ROCKING. A sea of fans, clad in red shirts and flags, have come to witness the No. 1-seed New Mexico Lobos take on the No. 3-seed UNLV Runnin’ Rebels. If you’re at home, you can catch the game on CBS.

Believe it or not, the place is more New Mexico than UNLV. This place is just as loud—if not louder—than The Pit in Albuquerque. Of course, UNLV has its contingency present, but the overwhelming amount of UNM support has been surprising.

Before we start live-blogging the action, let’s get a brief outlook on both teams, and recap how they arrived at this point.

New Mexico: The 15th-ranked Lobos (28-5, 13-3) come to Vegas with a repeat in mind. They are led by Conference Player of the Year Kendall Williams, a 6-4, 185-pound combo guard with a strong dribble-drive game and quality floor leadership. The Lobos also feature center Alex Kirk, a 7-footer who can block shots and shoot threes (nice combo, right?), and Tony Snell, a 6-7 swingman with dope braids, excellent length and a deadly jumpshot. New Mexico defeated Wyoming 59-46 in the quarterfinals, and made quick work of San Diego State in the semis yesterday afternoon, 60-50.

UNLV: The Rebels (25-8, 10-6) are equipped with a talented frontline. Freshman phenom Anthony Bennett is a 6-8, 240-pound forward who is the definition of an “inside-outside” basketball player. With a strong March, Bennett will have a legitimate chance to be the first pick in this year’s NBA Draft. Junior forward Mike Moser is Bennett’s sidekick down low, and UNLV has been known to punish teams in the paint early and often. The Rebels defeated Air Force 72-56 in the quarterfinal, and took care of Colorado State 75-65 yesterday.

OK, ready for tip-off.

Head Coaches: Steve Alford (New Mexico); Dave Rice (UNLV)

Starting lineups:

New Mexico: G Hugh Greenwood, G Kendall Williams, G Tony Snell, F Cameron Bairstow, C Alex Kirk

UNLV: G Anthony Marshall, G Katin Reinhartdt, G Bryce Dejean-Jones, F Anthony Bennett, F Mike Moser

Updates will be filed throughout the game—hit refresh and scroll down for the newest one. Feel free to speak up in the comments section if you desire. This should be a great one — let’s do it.

— UNLV wins the tip, and I’m already partially deaf. Bennett goes to work quickly, sinking a one-dribble pull-up from the elbow. 2-0 UNLV.

— Tony Snell turns the ball over, Bennett runs the floor and gets a monster two-hand throwdown on the break. UNLV up 4-0.

— Snell dishes to Kirk down low for a quick two. UNM on the board.

— Anthony Bennett is ON FIRE. Just had two more dunks followed by a three-pointer. UNLV up 11-9, 14:21 left in the half.

— 13-11 UNLV with 13:20 remaining. Between all the noise and rim-rattling Anthony Bennett dunks, it’s hard to concentrate in here.

— 15-13 UNLV with just over 12 minutes left in the first half. Bennett leading UNLV (and all scorers) with 11, while Alex Kirk has 4 for the Lobos.

— Lobos sophomore Hugh Greenwood, a native of Australia, hits back to back threes, and gives New Mexico a 19-14 lead. UNLV coach Dave Rice takes a timeout, 10:56 remaining.

— Wow, forgot to mention: these two teams split the season series 1-1. Each team defended their home court.

— UNLV fires back with an Anthony Marshall three, but Lobos senior Jamal Fenton answers with a driving and-1 layup. Lobos up 26-20 with 8 minutes left.

— Both teams are scratching, clawing and biting for every point. In other words, nothing is coming easily. Every shot is contested, every rebound has three or four bodies fighting for it, every transition bucket is followed by a hard foul. This is great.

— Also forgot to mention: Boyz II Men was in the house to sing the national anthem. Per usual, they killed it.

— UNLV keeps hitting shots, but the Lobos return with their own. Greenwood again from deep — three 3’s for him. 31-25 UNM.

— Crazy for a freshman to be playing—let alone dominating—in this game. Bennett is special. . . Also, it’s always interesting to see where Bennett sets up on the floor. He can score from literally anywhere, so do you put him on the wing or the block? Thus far Dave Rice has him on the perimeter.

— It’s really hard to focus and simultaneously type in here. There’s not one empty seat and there’s not one impartial fan. I don’t know exactly what just happened, but there was a monster missed dunk by UNLV followed by an and-1-turned-traveling-violation by UNM. 31-27 Lobos, 3:43 left in the first half.

— Kendall Williams with a beautiful back-cut only to have his dunk blocked by Anthony Marshall. Still 31-27 Lobos.

— Tony Snell with a beautiful, high-arching three to put UNM up 34-29 with just over 1 minute remaining in the half. I’ve written about my appreciation for Snell’s skill-set before, but just to reiterate: Tony Snell is (undoubtedly) the best catch-and-shoot player in America.

— UNLV holds for the last shot of the half, and freshman Katin Reinhardt comes off a screen to nail a three-pointer at the buzzer. New Mexico leads 34-32 at halftime.

— First half stats: For UNLV, Bennett with 13 points and 4 rebounds, and Marshall with 6. For New Mexico, Greenwood has 9, Cameron Bairstow has 6, and Snell has 8. Kendall Williams with 5 assists.

— Katin Reinhardt opens the second half with a quick two, but Tony Snell answers with a jumper of his own. 36-34 UNM, 18 minutes remaining.

— Conference Player of the Year Kendall Williams looking to be more assertive this half. Comes up the court and sinks a three. 39-34 Lobos.

— Alex Kirk with a miss from the foul line, but Cameron Bairstow there for the rebound. He gets fouled and will head to the line. . . In a game this tight, second chance points could be the difference.

— Right on cue: UNLV with 5 missed jumpers… on one possession. Unfortunately for them, they couldn’t convert the second, third, fourth or fifth opportunity. Media Timeout with 15:39 remaining; 40-36 New Mexico.

— Three point UNM lead until Kendall Williams isolates on Anthony Marshall, hits him with a right-to-left crossover and finishes at the cup. 44-39 Lobos, 13:57 to go.

— A quick UNLV two, followed by a Bryce Dejean-Jones jumpshot, ties the game. 44 all, 12:41 remaining. Timeout New Mexico.

— Bennett has had a quiet second half; let’s see if that changes following the timeout.

— With the shot clock expiring, Jamal Fenton takes a handoff from Chad Adams and lays it in. 46-44 New Mexico. On the other end, Reinhardt goes at Fenton and draws a foul… He sinks the first, but misses the second. 46-45 UNM, 9:40 left.

— Tony Snell, running around screens like a crazy person, receives the ball and sinks a corner 3. However, Bennett—(FINALLY!)—gets up the floor quickly and puts in a layup. New Mexico up two with 7:45 remaining in the championship.

— Bang Bang. Snell with another catch-and-shoot three-pointer. 52-47, Lobos. Timeout, UNLV.

— Snell hits another jumpshot, putting UNM ahead 54-47 with just over six minutes to play.

— Katin Reinhardt misses, and the crowd can sense  that the Championship is within sight. Lobos fans are getting LOUD, taking Thomas & Mack to a decibel it probably hasn’t seen before. 54-47 UNM, 4 minutes to play.

— Snell hits another jumpshot (!), and the Lobos take a 56-47 lead with 3:30 remaining. They’re starting to taste a repeat Championship…

— Bryce Dejean-Jones hits a three, and makes it a two possesion game. Crowd , obviously still on their feet, goes bananas.

— Dejean-Jones AGAIN FROM THREE. Wow. Just like that, back to a three point game. Timeout New Mexico, 2:07 remaining.

— Tony Snell loses the ball, but the freshman Reinhardt misses a pull-up three in transition. 56-53, 1 minute left.

— BANG BANG. Tony Snell with another catch-and-shoot three-pointer, inducing seizures all over the building. 59-53 New Mexico, 30 ticks left. Lobos smelling a repeat.

— Kendall Williams steps up to the line and calmy sinks both. 61-53 New Mexico, 21 seconds left. Nothing official yet, but looks like the Lobos will hang on and win their second consecutive Mountain West Conference Championship.

— Williams steals the ball, goes on the break and nails home a 360 dunk. Crowd goes absolutely BONKERS.

— Game Over: New Mexico wins 63-56. Ladies and gentlemen, your 2013 Mountain West Tournament Champions.

— For UNM, Snell finishes with 21 points (five 3’s), and Kendall Williams chips in 12 points and 7 assists. For UNLV, Bryce Dejean-Jones scored 19, and Anthony Bennett recorded 15 points and 11 rebounds.

— Immediately after the game, NBA legend Reggie Miller comes over to Snell and gives him respect on a spectacular performance.

— The crowd storms the court, and it’s getting rowdy in here. New Mexico’s fan base rivals any in the country.

— All-Tournament Team: Colton Iverson (Colorado State), Anthony Bennett (UNLV), Katin Reinhardt (UNLV), Cameron Bairstow (UNM), Tony Snell (UNM).

— Snell, who finished with 21 points and five three-pointers, is named Tournament MVP.

That’s it from Las Vegas. Be sure to stay on for all of the March Madness coverage you need… Thanks for following along, and have a great night!