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Mtn. West update

Mtn. West update

Mtn. West update
By Bruce Marshall
The Gold Sheet

Last night, we took in the San Diego State-UNLV game at the Thomas & Mack Center, still a great place to enjoy college basketball. We have always liked the layout of the TMC, in which even the higher-up seats provide good sightlines.

Compared to overrated venues such as L.A.’s Staples Center, where upstairs seats provide a vantage point not too different from looking down at 34th Street from the observation deck of the Empire State Building, the TMC provides a clear view for everybody. And the atmosphere is back in Vegas, with the arena rocking as it did during the days of Jerry Tarkanian.

Unfortunately for Lon Kruger’s modern-day Rebels, their 28-game home conference win streak came to a screeching halt in a pulsating overtime loss in a “bubble battle” vs. San Diego State, 68-66. The Rebs had a couple of chances in the final minute, but swingman Rene Rougeau, who played solidly all night, failed to convert a driving layup that would have put UNLV up by 1 with 42 seconds to play.

Then, in the final moments, Wink Adams misfired on a 3-pointer that would have won the game, and frosh G Oscar Bellfield’s follow-up was off the mark. Earlier, the Runnin' Rebels had a chance to win at the end of regulation, but Joe Darger’s triple from the corner missed badly.

Still, the battle had the feel of a postseason matchup, which we might get to see again in next month’s Mountain West Tournament at the Thomas & Mack. These are also a couple of NCAA “bubble” teams and the sorts that could cause some real trouble as a 10, 11, or 12 seed in the Big Dance. Each is athletic, with lots of guards and wings with great quickness, consistently attacking the rim. Unfortunately, when they get together, the pace and style of the game will result in numerous fouls, which was the case last night when the refs blew their whistles 59 times. It robbed the contest of much flow, but did not detract from the drama. In the overtime period, Aztec F Kyle Spain, held to just 9 points in regulation time, scored 8 of San Diego State’s 9 points in the added five minutes to prove the eventual difference.

Indeed, the Mountain West has turned into quite an interesting race, one in which Steve Fisher’s Aztecs might be ready to gain an upper hand. Remember, SDSU still has five conference games remaining at the Cox Arena, where it stands 9-1 this season. As for the Rebels, they’re down to just 4 league games at the TMC, and have to travel Saturday to Albuquerque for a battle vs. New Mexico, which might own the best homecourt edge in the loop. Utah and BYU will also have something to say about the race, and all five of the MWC frontrunners still sit somewhere on the NCAA bubble.

Stay tuned, because the Mountain West race is just beginning to warm up.

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