The 15th-ranked Lobos will try to stay on track for a second straight Mountain West Conference tournament title by topping the Aztecs in Friday night’s semifinals in Las Vegas.
New Mexico (27-5) wasn’t at its best in its tournament opener as it failed to make a field goal in the first 10:23 of the second half against Wyoming on Wednesday, but it posted a 59-46 victory.
“I guess in the eyes of the beholder of what’s pretty and ugly,” coach Steve Alford said. “In March, when you win by 13 - to me - it’s pretty.”
With their offense sputtering, the Lobos held the Cowboys to 32.0 percent shooting and a 6-of-23 performance from 3-point range.
“Anything we can do to get a win,” said guard Tony Snell, who had a team-best 15 points. “Wins always count. I don’t care if it’s one point or two points, as long as we get wins, that’s all that matters for us.”
New Mexico shot 38.5 percent in last year’s tournament championship against San Diego State but denied the Aztecs a third straight title with a 68-59 victory. The Lobos, though, couldn’t overcome one of their worst offensive performances in school history Jan. 26 at San Diego State.
In a 55-34 loss, New Mexico shot 25.0 percent (11 of 44) for its lowest mark in nearly five decades. The Lobos’ scoring output was the lowest since they had 32 against Utah on Jan. 31, 1976.
New Mexico avenged that defeat at home Feb. 27. Alex Kirk scored a season-high 25 points and the Lobos held the Aztecs to 36.2 percent shooting in a 70-60 victory.
“They had 34 all over their locker room,” San Diego State coach Steve Fisher said. “They were anxious to play us. I’m sure they’ll be anxious to play us again. So will we.”
Fisher’s team set up another matchup with New Mexico by holding off Boise State 73-67 in Wednesday’s quarterfinals. Jamaal Franklin led the way with 19 points and eight rebounds, while Xavier Thames scored 18 and Chase Tapley had 17.
“Last year, a lot of people didn’t think a lot of us. We all play with a chip on our shoulder every day. We want to win,” Franklin said.
The Aztecs shared the regular-season championship with New Mexico in 2011-12 and had claimed back-to-back titles before finishing 9-7 this season. The fourth seed in this tournament, San Diego State (22-9) is trying to boost its NCAA tournament resume as it seeks a fourth straight berth.
The Lobos are trying to advance to back-to-back Mountain West championship games for the first time. San Diego State made it to the title contest the last four seasons and claimed its league-best fourth tournament championship in 2011.
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