New Mexico-UNLV Preview
By KATE HEDLIN
(AP) -- UNLV couldn't capture a share of the Mountain West Conference regular-season title, but with a spot in the tournament championship game on the line, it will look to get a measure of revenge against one of the teams that did.
The 20th-ranked and third-seeded Runnin' Rebels will take on second-seeded New Mexico in a semifinal matchup at the Thomas & Mack Center on Friday night.
While UNLV finished behind New Mexico and No. 18 San Diego State in the MWC, the Rebels are perhaps the favorite to win the tournament, which is being played on their own court. They improved to 17-0 at the Thomas & Mack Center this season with a 56-48 win over Wyoming on Thursday.
UNLV (26-7) led 28-11 at the half, then held off a late rally. The Cowboys cut the deficit to six points in the final minute, but the Rebels won for the fourth time in five games after holding Wyoming to 29.3 percent shooting.
"When you hold a team like Wyoming with the balance they have on offense ... to 3 for 24 (in the first half), you've done something right," coach Dave Rice said.
Mike Moser was the only UNLV player to score in double figures, getting 18 of his 22 points in the first half. He also had 14 rebounds while Anthony Marshall finished with eight points and 10 rebounds.
Moser has recorded consecutive double-doubles to begin March after struggling in February. He averaged 6.5 points on 23.5 percent shooting in the Rebels' final four games last month, but has put up 39 points in the last two games while shooting 14 of 21.
He'll look to help the Rebels reach the title game for the fourth time in six years Friday. UNLV is 4-0 against New Mexico in the league tournament and had won three in a row in the overall series before a 65-45 loss in Albuquerque on Feb. 18. Moser was held to eight points on 3-of-10 shooting in that defeat.
The Rebels are going to be tough to cool off at home, but New Mexico (25-6) will try after it advanced with a 79-64 win over Air Force on Thursday.
Demetrius Walker scored 19 points off the bench, including 13 during a 22-3 run in the first half. The Lobos led 45-31 at the break.
"Our bench has been terrific all year," coach Steve Alford said. "Demetrius spearheaded that."
New Mexico has won three straight after back-to-back losses on the road dropped the Lobos out of the Top 25. They've averaged 80.3 points during their win streak, and for the regular season New Mexico was second in the MWC behind the Rebels with 73.2 points per game.
As efficiently as New Mexico runs its offense, like many teams it struggled against the Rebels at the Thomas & Mack Center. The Lobos shot 38.6 percent in an 80-63 loss Jan. 21.
New Mexico forward Drew Gordon - like Moser a transfer from UCLA - was a bright spot with 14 points and 12 boards in that contest, and he's averaging 20.7 points and 10.0 rebounds in his last three games.
The Lobos have advanced to the conference title game all four times they've been the No. 2 seed, most recently in 2005.
Updated March 9, 2012