By BERNIE WILSON, Associated Press
LAS VEGAS (AP) — Now they can play the real Mountain West Conference championship.
Drew Gordon had 19 points and 13 rebounds for New Mexico, which raced back from deficits of 12-0 and 17-4 to stun No. 20 UNLV 72-67 in the Runnin' Rebels' home arena in the MWC semifinals Friday night.
The Lobos (26-6) will play No. 18 San Diego State in the championship game Saturday night. The Lobos and Aztecs each got a trophy for sharing the regular-season title, with SDSU earning the top seed on a tiebreaker. SDSU will be trying for its third straight tournament title and automatic NCAA berth.
On Saturday night, there will be just one trophy awarded.
Gordon said winning the championship would make up for him losing the conference player of the year award to SDSU guard Jamaal Franklin.
"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."
SDSU beat New Mexico by five in Albuquerque and the Lobos won by 10 in San Diego.
Tony Snell added 15 points and Demetrius Walker 12 for the Lobos, who outrebounded UNLV 41-25 and took advantage of the Runnin' Rebels shooting just 35.6 percent overall.
New Mexico had lost to UNLV (26-8) the previous seven times they'd met in conference tournament games.
Gordon's biggest rebound came with 40 seconds left after UNLV's Anthony Marshall missed a shot with the Lobos leading 68-65. Kendall Williams was fouled and made both shots for a five-point lead with 26 seconds to go. UNLV missed two easy shots on its next possession. Marshall made two free throws with 14 seconds left to pull UNLV to 70-67, but Williams sealed it with two free throws with 12 seconds left.
All of Gordon's rebounds were on defense.
Marshall scored 19 for UNLV (26-8), Oscar Bellfield 13 and Mike Moser 11.
It was a grudge match after the teams split regular-season blowouts. UNLV beat New Mexico 80-63 at home on Jan. 21 behind Moser's double-double. On Feb. 18, New Mexico routed the Runnin' Rebels 65-45 in Albuquerque behind Gordon's monster game of a career-high 27 points and 20 rebounds.
UNLV lived up to its nickname when it ran to a 12-0 lead behind 3-pointers by Chace Stanback and Marshall and two three-point plays by Bellfield.
Bellfield's 3-poiner made it 17-4.
"We took a punch in the mouth," coach Steve Alford said. "We stayed poised and hung in there. We talked about poise. You can't get too excited, you can't get too low. There's a lot of game left."
New Mexico wasn't down for long. A.J. Hardeman and Hugh Greenwood made two shots apiece and Gordon had one during a 10-0 run that brought the Lobos to 17-14.
"We came out with great energy and focus, got off to a great start," UNLV coach Dave Rice said. "To their credit, they answered that and got themselves back into the game."
The Lobos tied it at 29 on a jumper by Jamal Fenton with 1:54 before halftime and took their first lead on two free throws by Tony Snell with 1:27 to go.
UNLV's Kendall Wallace hit a 3 just before the buzzer for a 34-31 lead.
UNLV made six of 12 3-pointers in the first half, but shot just 37.5 percent overall. New Mexico shot 50 percent overall, but made only 1 of 8 from behind the arc.
New Mexico took control in the second half and was ahead 64-56 after two free throws by Gordon. But UNLV came back to tie it on two free throws by Marshall, a 3-pointer by Moser and a three-point play by Marshall.
After missing shots on consecutive possessions, the Lobos went ahead 66-64 on two free throws by Walker after UNLV big man Brice Massamba fouled out. Marshall went to the line again with 1:18 left and made one of two. Walker made two free throws to put the Lobos up 68-65 with 50.3 seconds to go.
UNLV expects an at-large bid.
"We can't allow the emotion of tonight to affect us, but get us motivated," Rice said.
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