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LAS VEGAS (AP) — New Mexico won its quarterfinal matchup in the Mountain West Conference tournament despite a sluggish stretch in what seemed like a home game.
Tony Snell scored 15 points and the No. 15 Lobos led from start to finish, beating Wyoming 59-46 on Wednesday night.
Cameron Bairstow added 14 and eight rebounds for top-seeded New Mexico (27-5), which will play San Diego State in the semifinals Friday.
“I guess in the eyes of the beholder of what’s pretty and ugly,” New Mexico coach Steve Alford said. “In March, when you win by 13 — to me — it’s pretty.”
The Lobos traveled well, bringing about 4,000 fans to the Thomas & Mack Center, home of third-seeded UNLV. At times Wednesday night, the Rebels’ home court felt like The Pit in Albuquerque.
The teams could meet in the final Saturday after the No. 3 Rebels won their quarterfinal against Air Force. earlier Wednesday. UNLV plays No. 2 seed Colorado State on Friday.
“(Our) fans are definitely a big part of how we play,” Snell said. “They give us energy to play better and pick each other up. We tried to be aggressive from the start, and try to be a threat out there. But we can never win games without having defensive stops.”
Derrious Gilmore hit four 3-pointers and had 14 points, and Larry Nance Jr. also scored 14 for No. 8 seed Wyoming (19-13). Josh Adams added 12 points for the Cowboys.
New Mexico led 34-24 at halftime before Wyoming opened the second half on a 9-2 run, but the Cowboys came no closer.
Wyoming held Kendall Williams, the conference player of the year, to six points but the Lobos’ reserves picked up the slack, outscoring the Cowboys’ bench 12-0.
Even though the Lobos did not have a field goal for the first 10:23 of the second half, the Cowboys could not take advantage, pulling no closer than three after their run.
“I thought our guys were terrific tonight,” said Alford, the conference coach of the year. “We really guarded the way we’ve been guarding all year. I think we made things hard on them. It became a physical game, which our guys have proven they don’t mind physicality.”
Wyoming’s Leonard Washington and Nance Jr. both played with foul trouble, Washington picking up his fourth with 14:50 left in the game, and Nance Jr. with 11:59 remaining.
“(We) played with a sense of urgency,” Wyoming coach Larry Shyatt said. “(We) played with a level of toughness. Coming out in the second half down 10, to make their staff call timeout, is an example of what (my players) have been to me personally.”
New Mexico kept extending the advantage throughout the second half and had its largest lead at 59-44 lead with 1:15 to go. The Lobos were strong at the free throw line, converting 21 of 29, while the Cowboys made only eight of their 13 shots from the line.
Now Wyoming awaits an invitation from a postseason tournament outside the NCAAs.
“When we came to Wyoming a few years ago, (we) were 280 on the RPI,” Shyatt said. “You fill in the blank. Last year, we were 90, this year we’re a 67, and maybe after tonight, we went forward after we played No. 2 in the computer.”
The Lobos swept the regular season series, including a 53-42 win in Albuquerque on March 2.
Both teams were coming off losses. The Lobos lost at Air Force in the final seconds, 89-88, last Saturday, and the Cowboys came in riding a five-game skid.
All five Lobos starters made all-conference teams. Williams was a first-team selection, Alex Kirk a second-team and Snell a third-teamer, while Bairstow and Hugh Greenwood earned honorable mentions.
New Mexico hit eight of its first ten shots, including a trio of 3-pointers, and all five free throws in the first nine-plus minutes, giving the Lobos a 25-15 lead. The Lobos’ largest lead of the first half was 11 with 6:37 left.
“We have faith in one another,” Bairstow said. “Guys are going to step up, which they have the whole year. So even when we’re not playing well at a particular point, I think we did a good job of being patient tonight.”
But the Cowboys defense tightened and New Mexico made only 4 of 17 from the field the rest of the half.
This was only the second time the teams met in the Mountain West tournament. Wyoming upset then-No. 3 seed New Mexico in the 2009 quarterfinal round.