NOTE: updated with a UNM correction below about Bragg rebounding)
By Mark Smith
Editor in Chief
The New Mexico Lobos are getting one of the matchups they’ve been wanting for weeks.
The Wyoming Cowboys got the one the ones they’ve wanted all season.
Funny how things work out. Or still might.
The Lobos (13-17) ended their disappointing regular season with an 88-81 loss to Wyoming (8-23) on Saturday in Laramie, creating the same matchup on Wednesday in the Mountain West conference tournament in Las Vegas. The Lobos and Cowboys go at it again at 1:30 p.m. in Las Vegas (2:30 Mountain) in the next go-around. The winner plays No. 2 Utah State in Thursday’s quarterfinals.
New Mexico, Boise State (12-19) and Colorado State (12-19) all tied for seventh in the 11-team league with 7-11 records, but the Lobos got the tiebreaker.
Nevada (28-3, 15-3) also got a tiebreaker over Utah State (25-6, 15-3), that for the top spot.
The Lobos will likely be favored again on Wednesday against the 10th-seeded Cowboys (4-14 in MW), but probably by less than the five points they were favored by on Saturday. Then again, as inconsistent as UNM has been all season, maybe the oddsmakers would be better off taking the game off the board.
UNM throttled the Cowboys 83-53 earlier this season in Albuquerque, but that mattered little in Laramie.
Senior star Justin James scored 28 points and had 12 rebounds while A.J. Banks scored 20 points for Wyoming, which had lost six straight until beating San Jose State in its last game before Saturday.
Post Carlton Bragg had a huge game for the Lobos with 22 points and 20 rebounds. Vance Jackson had 13 points and 11 rebounds while Makuach Maluach scored 18.
Correction: Bragg finished league play with 176 rebounds. On Saturday, UNM announced that he had 190 and tied the tied a school record, but that was incorrect. Lewis LaMar (1993-94) owns the most Lobo rebounds in a conference season with 190.
Lobo senior Anthony Mathis was 2-of-6 from 3-point range for 12 points. He is tied for the most 3s in a season with Kevin Henry (1998-99) in school history with 102.
The MW slate:
The top five seeds get byes in the first round: No. 1 Nevada, No. 2 Utah State, No. 3 Fresno State (22-8, 13-5), No. 4 San Diego State (19-12, 11-7) and No. 5 UNLV (17-13, 11-7).
Wednesday’s first round games are: No. 7 New Mexico vs. No. 10 Wyoming; No. 8 Boise State vs. No. 9 Colorado State; No. 6 Air Force (13-17, 8-10) vs. San Jose State (4-26, 1-17).
Thursday’s quarterfinals are: Nevada vs. Colo. State/Boise State winner; Utah State vs. UNM/Wyoming winner; Fresno State vs. Air Force/SJSU winner; San Diego State vs. UNLV.
The semifinals are Friday and the title game is Saturday.
JUST RITCH: In another interesting twist, while former UNM coach Steve “Lobo For Life” Alford is trying to find his next gig, the guy he replaced is looking to get his next NCAA Tournament appearance as a head coach.
Ritchie McKay is head coach of Liberty (27-6), which takes on Lipscomb (25-6) today at 1 p.m. (Mountain) in the Atlantic Sun Conference championship game (ESPN). The winner gets a berth in the Huge Hootenanny.
The two teams tied for league’s regular season title at 14-2.
McKay was fired at UNM late during the 2006-07 season by then UNM athletic director Paul Krebs. McKay had led the Lobos to the NCAA Tournament two years earlier.
Alford, who left UNM for UCLA following the 2012-13 season, was fired earlier this year at UCLA. The irony was that McKay’s Flames ripped the Bruins at UCLA in what turned out to be Alford’s final game before the ouster.
Don’t mess with karma.
Hey — could Ritchie now replace Alford at UCLA?
Tell you what, if the Flames get to the Dance and take down a partner or two …?
The Ritch would definitely get richer.
28 + 1 = ZERO: I realize my math skills aren’t what they used to be, but that is pretty much the equation for with the second-seeded Las Cruces Bulldawgs. Their unbeaten season and their entire season ended on Saturday night without a spot in the Pit.
Top-ranked Las Cruces lost 53-52 to 15th-seeded Onate on Saturday night in the first round of the boys state basketball tournament.
The Bulldawgs won the District 3-5A tournament last week by beating Onate 50-43 in the title game, upping their record to 28-0. Despite that mark, they were given the No. 2 seed in the 5A state tournament. That was a surprise to many in the prep hoop world.
And so was Saturday. Onate was 0-3 against its intra-city and district rival during the season. But the last two games were close — last week, and 74-68 last month — and beating a team for the fourth time in a season in the first round of a state tournament is a tough task.
Thus, the 15th-seeded Knights (19-11) are heading to Albuquerque this week for the quarterfinals. They will face 10th-seeded Cleveland.
The Storm — one of four teams from District 1-5A in state, all which won on Saturday — topped 10th-seeded La Cueva 77-59 on their home floor in the opening round.
“You’re coaching 15, 16 and 17-year-olds,” said Cleveland coach Sean Jimenez, “and it is very hard to keep them from looking ahead at this point. You see what happened to Las Cruces.
“But we’ve really got a great bunch, and they worked their butts off all last week. And when you get to Pit, doesn’t matter what eight teams are there — everyone is so pumped up. It’s an incredible event; one of best in country. It’s going to be crazy this week.”
Check back later today (March 10) and throughout the week for state high school basketball stories.
Mark Smith has worked in New Mexico sports media for more than four decades, and is one of the most decorated sports journalists in state history. Smith has won more than 30 combined awards in print, television and radio. He is the editor in chief of Enchantment Sports. Contact him at mark.enchantmentsportsNM@gmail.com.