Snell, Lobos hold off Rebels for Mountain West crown
LAS VEGAS — Some (very) quick thoughts after taking in the Mountain West title game at the Thomas & Mack Center, where New Mexico beat homestanding UNLV 63-56 to become double champions of the league this season.
1) New Mexico is very difficult to deal with with its two-big alignment in the frontcourt. Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow play the high-low game between themselves very well, both are willing passers, and you have to put so much attention to keep them in check that the Lobos’ perimeter guys have the space to hurt you.
2) I said before the game that the “streaky shooter” X-factor — Tony Snell or Katin Reinhardt — could decide the game and that Reinhardt coming off a career-high 21 points yesterday may be a little overeager. I don’t think Reinhardt took bad shots, but he didn’t make enough of them. Snell had a game-high 21 points, including a backbreaking three-pointer in the final minute that put New Mexico up by six.
3) UNLV still can’t kick a pesky habit to fall back on three-point shots when they’re under pressure. It’s a live-or-die strategy that seems a little curious when you have a future NBA lottery pick elsewhere on the floor.
Now both teams head to the NCAAs, where New Mexico appears very likely to be a 2-seed and UNLV will be somewhere in the neighborhood of a 6, give or take. The pressure will be on both teams to deliver tournament wins, especially the Lobos, who will have seed and location advantage. This run could be a springboard toward a preseason top-10 (at least) rank for New Mexico next season, as all five starters are (for now) expected to return and they will be much deeper and more well-rounded with transfers and freshmen they have arriving.
It’s been a great week in Vegas. Let’s do it again next year!