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It was a good day for national exposure for the University of New Mexico and even a better day for Steve Alford and his Mountain West Champion New Mexico Lobos as they were handed a No. 5 seed and shipped to Portland, Ore.
Thursday, the Lobos will battle Long Beach State, the No. 12 seed.
The value for a program falling into the NCAA bracket was reflected even before the NCAA Selection show began on CBS. Alford was the last live interview heading into the national show.
The Lobos didn’t have to wait long as his team was called early in the show.
The Lobos (26-9) will have to deal with the two-time Big West Conference Player of The Year, Casper Ware, who roared for 33 points to lead his Long Beach State 49ers (25-8) to a 77-64 win over UC Santa Barbara this past Saturday in the Big West title game.
Ware, a flashy senior guard, posted his third 30-point game of the season. The Lobos probably can’t expect Casper to be a friendly 49er, but Ware also will meet an extremely unfriendly Lobo defense.
UNM’s defensive pride was flashed this past week in Las Vegas when the Lobos slapped down Air Force and UNLV and routed San Diego State in the tournament championship game.
Long Beach State gets a lot of production from Ware, but the 49ers will be looking at a New Mexico team that applies great defense on the edge and has 6-foot-9 Drew Gordon, the Mountain West tourney’s MVP, to take care of things inside.
This year’s No.1 seeds are Kentucky, Syracuse, North Carolina and Michigan State.
The Mountain West ended up with four teams dancing, with UNLV, San Diego State and Colorado State, which finished strong to slip off the NCAA bubble and into the bracket, joining the Lobos.
The SDSU Aztecs and the Lobos went into the MW tourney as co- regular season champions. The Aztecs, who lost to UNM in the title game, were handed a No. 6 seed and will open with No. 11 North Carolina State.
The Rams are in the NCAA bracket as a No. 11 seed and play No. 6 Murray.
The 49ers also had James Ennis on the Big West All-Tournament team. Long Beach State got nine rebounds in the title game from Edis Dervisevic, who made his first start of the season for the 49ers.
Ware not only was the repeat Big West Player of The Year, but he was the District IX Player of the Year named by the United States Basketball Writers Association. The 49ers’ Larry Anderson was the Big West Defensive Player of The Year.
Ware gets a lot of attention for Long Beach State, but, again like the Lobos, this is a balanced team
All five of the 49er starters made the all-league team at some level. Ware, Anderson and T.J. Robinson were first team while Eugene Phelps was named second-team all-conference.
The 49ers have a solid NCAA history, having pulled a spot on the bracket nine times, most recently in 2007.
The 49ers head man, Dan Monson, is taking his third team to the NCAA. He led Gonzaga to the Elite Eight in 1999 and took Minnesota to the first round in 2005. Coach Monson defended his Big West Coach of The Year award. The 49ers went 15-1 in the regular season.
The Lobos might also lock into this stat as they contemplate the 49ers of the Big West. Long Beach State finished the season winning 21 of 24 games and, like the Lobos, looked impressive in winning its league’s crown. The 49ers beat UC Davis 80-46, beat Irvine 68-57 and rolled Santa Barbara 77-64.