New Mexico-San Diego St. Preview

The Associated Press

San Diego State and New Mexico finished deadlocked atop the Mountain West and shared the regular-season conference championship.

They will break the tie Saturday night when the 18th-ranked Aztecs seek their third straight tournament title against the Lobos in Las Vegas.

San Diego State (26-6) wasn't given much of a chance by prognosticators in the preseason after it lost four starters from last season's team that won a school-record 34 games.

That didn't seem to matter to coach Steve Fisher, who will have guided his squad to its third straight NCAA tournament berth no matter the outcome of Saturday's contest.

Conference player of the year Jamaal Franklin scored 19 points and Chase Tapley added 17 in Friday's 79-69 semifinal win over Colorado State, helping send the Aztecs to their fourth straight championship game.

"When you knock the first one down, it always makes it comfortable for the next one," Franklin said.

Fisher and his team know an NCAA tournament bid is assured, though no one has considered coasting into next week.

"We talked a little bit about us and a responsibility to ourselves to come out and be as good as we can be," Fisher said. "We're not worried about not having a deep bench, not having legs. We want to be playing. We want to be that last team standing here in this Mountain West Conference, and we're going to be having a chance to do that."

San Diego State has won six straight games overall after winning its eighth consecutive MWC tournament game. Its last loss in the league playoff came in the 2009 championship when it fell to Utah 52-50.

New Mexico (26-6) knocked off No. 20 UNLV 72-67 in the other semifinal Friday and will be seeking its first Mountain West tournament title since 2005.

Drew Gordon had 19 points and 13 rebounds against the Runnin' Rebels, and he said the victory proved the Lobos are just as good as any team in the MWC.

"I don't think our team got enough recognition throughout conference play," Gordon said. "Winning this Mountain West tournament would be huge for us."

Gordon also said beating SDSU in the final would be a nice consolation prize after Franklin beat him out for the player of the year.

''I think our chip is trying to win a championship,'' Gordon said. ''Like I say, he got the honors; the hat goes off to him. Tomorrow it's championship time. It's trying to boost our seeding, hopefully boost our rating as a team.''

New Mexico has won four straight and 11 of its last 13, and is considered a lock to earn an NCAA tournament berth for the second time in three seasons regardless of Saturday's outcome.

The Aztecs split the season series with the Lobos, with each team winning on the road.

Gordon had 15 points in a 75-70 home loss to the Aztecs on Jan. 18., then netted 17 points and grabbed 17 rebounds in a 77-67 road win Feb. 15.

Franklin shot only 5 for 13 and had 12 points in the first meeting, when Xavier Thames finished with a game-high 22. Franklin had 16 points in the second contest, which was the Aztecs' only home loss in conference play.

"We'll have our hands full and then some," Fisher said.

San Diego State upset then-No. 8 New Mexico 72-69 in the 2010 semifinals in the last conference tournament meeting.

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