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Saturday, March 13, 2010

UNLV and San Diego State Reach The Mountain West Conference Tournament Finals

Wow, and people wonder why the Mountain West Conference Tournament is played at the Thomas and Mack Center here in Las Vegas. 18,500 screaming college basketball fans, that's why. I am constantly hearing that it's unfair to have the tournament here each year because it gives the UNLV Runnin' Rebels the home court advantage.


Last year in 2009 the Rebels were bounced out of the tournament in the first round by San Diego State. In fact the Aztecs beat the Rebels, who went 21-11, three times, twice at the T&M and literally knock them out of the NCAA Tournament consideration.

Frankly winning this tournament basically comes down to which team is playing their best at this time of the year. The other factor in this tournament is whether the team has already secured a bid to the big dance before the first tip off even happens.

For New Mexico and BYU, they are both nationally ranked in the top 15 teams and will receive a bid regardless of the outcome of the tournament. As much as both teams wanted to win their games they certainly were not under the gun and clearly their overall goal is to make the NCAA Tournament and do well there.

For UNLV and even more so for San Diego State the further they advanced in the tournament the better their chances are to go dancing. The Aztecs were clearly "on the bubble" before the start of the MWC Tournament but now, after beating top ranked New Mexico to reach the final, they are a lock to receive their invitation to continue their season.

For the UNLV Runnin' Rebels, BYU despite their high ranking was just what the doctor ordered. UNLV had won their previous seven meetings against the Cougars on their home court and last night was no exception.

The Rebels had already blown the Cougars out of the building earlier in February in what was the finest first half of basketball I have ever seen in my 55+ years following this game.

Last night both teams were red hot right out of the gate and it looked like Jimmer Fredette just might repeat his 45 point performance from the previous night. After scoring 10 points in the first six minutes of the game, the vaunted Rebels defense shut down the BYU star.

He went over 20 minutes before he scored again and brought the Cougars back from a 13 point deficit to tie the game late. The Rebels, particularly with Tre'Von Willis and Anthony Marshall sticking to Fredette like glue he had to work extremely hard for every shot. At times he appeared totally out of control.With that said, he still managed to finish with 30 points on 7-20 shooting.

The Rebels were led by their top two season scorers, Tre'Von Willis and Chase Stanback but the difference maker last night was the 6'10" Sophomore Center/Forward Brice Massamba. In 24 minutes, the most time he has spent on the court this year, Massamba dominated inside the lane throwing up 13 points on 5-6 from the field. He added six rebounds and moved around the paint like a point guard.

If last night was Massamba's coming out party it couldn't have come at a better time. His team is made up of mostly Sophomores and Juniors so the next two years at least, are looking very fine for the Rebels.

Willis finished with 18 points while Stanback chipped in with 17. This was the first win of the year for the Rebels where they were out rebounded by their opponent.

In today's final against San Diego State the Rebels must continue their defensive intensity that has brought them to this point. The teams split their two previous meetings this year with each team prevailing on their home court. The winner gets an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament and the Mountain West Conference appears most likely to put four teams in the tournament for the first time.

In an earlier article I said that it wouldn't surprise if any or perhaps all of these teams were to make it to the Sweet Sixteen and frankly after last nights doubleheader I wouldn't be surprised to find one of these teams in the Elite Eight or the Final Four. Remember, nobody ever heard of George Mason a few years back and each of these four teams are equal if not better than that Final Four team.

Today's game should be a classic. I give the edge to UNLV not because they are on their home court but because they have a much deeper bench and have the capability to play at this high level in their third game in three days.

Go Rebels.

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