mwc tournament:

Blog: UNLV survives a scare against Wyoming, setting up a semifinal showdown with New Mexico

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV forward Mike Moser is defended by Wyoming center Adam Waddell as he takes a shot during their Mountain West Conference Tournament game Thursday, March 8, 2012.

Updated Thursday, March 8, 2012 | 10:43 p.m.

MWC Tournament - UNLV v. Wyoming

UNLV guard Anthony Marshall pounds the floor during the second half of their Mountain West Conference Tournament game against Wyoming Thursday, March 8, 2012. UNLV won the game 56-48 and will face New Mexico in the semifinals. Launch slideshow »

MWC Tournament - New Mexico v. Air Force

New Mexico guard Kendall Williams hangs on the rim after a dunk against Air Force during their Mountain West Conference Tournament game Thursday, March 8, 2012.  Williams incurred a technical foul for hanging on the rim. Launch slideshow »

MWC Tournament: Colorado State vs. TCU

Colorado State fans Lesley Murray, left, and Laura Danielson cheer on their Rams during their Mountain West Conference Tournament game against TCU Thursday, March 8, 2012. Colorado State won 81-60. Launch slideshow »

MWC Tournament - San Diego State v. Boise State

San Diego State guard Chase Tapley reacts after making a basket during their Mountain West Conference Tournament game against Boise State Thursday, March 8, 2012. San Diego State won 65-62. Launch slideshow »

UNLV let yet another lead dwindle away — 22 to 6 — but at the Mack on Thursday night, the Rebels still had enough to close out against Wyoming.

The Cowboys' run began midway through the second half and it quickly began to look like almost every Rebels home game of late. The Rebels built a substantial lead mostly behind Mike Moser, who finished with 22 points and 14 rebounds, his 15th double-double of the season. But in the second half he scored just four points, and none until about five minutes were left and Wyoming was fully back in the game.

Aside from Moser, three Rebels scored eight points — Chace Stanback, Brice Massamba and Anthony Marshall, who also had 10 rebounds.

The problem looked to be the same that it has been in most of UNLV's double-digit leads, in that the Rebels let off the gas and stopped attacking the other team. It also helped that Wyoming, which shot a miserable 29 percent for the game, finally woke up a little bit and challenged UNLV inside.

The important thing is that UNLV survives to play tomorrow, when it will play second-seeded New Mexico in the semifinals at 8:30 p.m. The Rebels can be sure that a second half like the one tonight will end their Mountain West run, but at least they've got a day to think about it.

Check lasvegassun.com later tonight for a full report on tonight's game.

Wyoming claws back to within seven and now trails UNLV 50-39 with 2:40 to play

Lulled into sleep either by its own success or Wyoming's offensive ineptitude, UNLV has seen a 22-point lead fall to seven before taking a 48-39 lead with 3:42 remaining.

The Cowboys made their initial charge with UNLV's Mike Moser on the bench, but he has also been hampered by a leg injury in the second half. Nothing serious, but of late he hasn't taken charge of the offense like he's capable of doing.

Forward Leonard Washington is the man most responsible for pulling Wyoming back into this. He's got 11 points, eight rebounds and his bullied his way around the block.

UNLV withstood the charge and came back with a little counterpunch, so it may be a case of too little, too late for Wyoming. But either way, this is exactly the type of finish UNLV coach Dave Rice didn't want to see.

UNLV's scoring has balanced out among the roster as Rebels are burying Wyoming 44-26

UNLV's Mike Moser has taken more of a spectator's role in the second half, and UNLV hasn't missed a beat in a game that is putting several spectators to sleep (including the Wyoming women's basketball team).

The Rebels lead 44-26 with 11:58 remaining. Moser still has 18 points, but he added a couple rebounds for his 15th double-double of the year, and UNLV has balanced its scoring among several players. Brice Massamba has seven, Anthony Marshall has four and Oscar Bellfield has three.

Wyoming has shot better in the second half, but it's only enough to raise their game percentage to 23.7, which tells you about all you need to know.

Mike Moser wills UNLV to a 28-11 halftime lead against Wyoming with 18 points

The difference between Mike Moser and every other player in the first half is about the same margin as the Rebel Girls and every other dance team at the Mountain West Tournament. That is to say, it's not a fair comparison.

Moser has 18 points, eight rebounds and is single-handedly responsible for making this game, which UNLV leads 28-11 at halftime, watchable. Wyoming is 3-for-24 from the floor, 0-for-8 behind the three-point line and has as many assists as I do.

But without Moser, UNLV hasn't been much better. Minus his numbers, the Rebels are 4-for-18 and 2-for-8 behind the three-point line. Luckily, they don't have to play without him as he has only one foul and in the first half only got better as the game wore on.

Sure, UNLV would like to have somebody else step up, but unless the Cowboys kick themselves with their spurs, the Rebels won't need it. Chace Stanback has looked pretty good, scoring eight points, but Quintrell Thomas is the only other Rebel on the board (two).

As long as UNLV's defense plays with the same intensity that it had in the first half, it won't need a big change at the other end of the court.

UNLV's Mike Moser has taken over this game with a lights-out first half

Mike Moser is absolutely dominating right now, a reminder of why he was the favorite for the conference player of the year for the first half of the Mountain West schedule.

Moser has 13 points and five rebounds, basically willing UNLV to an 18-6 lead with 6:22 left in the first half. That's right, he's still outscoring every other player, from both teams, combined.

Moser is clearly in a rhythm, and the most impressive part is that he's doing it from everywhere on the court. He's got a 3, a couple slams and jump shots. They've come in transition and half-court sets.

Without him, this would still be a mess of a game, but fortunately for the fans in attendance, the Rebels don't have to worry about that. He will be the team's guiding force until halftime, at which point UNLV coach Dave Rice will beg someone else to help him out.

But considering just how well he's looked so far, and how bad Wyoming has been, they may not need it.

UNLV and Wyoming are playing something that resembles basketball so far

The first five minutes of this game rival the ugliness of any stretch of basketball played at the Mack today, and that's just fine according to the Cowboys.

Wyoming is making this game ugly, the Rebels are helping with missed shots and UNLV has a slim 5-2 lead with 14:40 left in the first half.

Mike Moser has a dunk and Chace Stanback scored early, a good indication of success for him, but that's it. And over a five-minute stretch that's not saying much.

The good new for UNLV is that Wyoming is out-uglying them with a tepid 1-for-10 shooting from the floor. Despite that, the Cowboys have got to be somewhat pleased with the first stretch, because anything that doesn't have UNLV in rhythm is a good thing in the long run.

The Rebels and Cowboys prepare for a rematch in the quarterfinal nightcap

UNLV is about to provide this crowd with a much-needed wake-up call.

The quarterfinal round started today in dramatic fashion with Jamaal Franklin's buzzer beater to defeat Boise State 65-62. Since then, it's been a pair of double-digit blowouts that were never really in doubt. But now it's time for the main event, at least for the bulk of the crowd tonight at the Thomas & Mack Center.

Colorado State's game was the most important of the day, but the Rebels hold the most intrigue for the hometown fans (duh) and it's also the last chance for a legit upset.

Boise State nearly pulled off the 8-over-1 in the opening game, but to this point it's been a chalky tournament. The 1, 2 and 4 seeds have all advanced, and 6-seed Wyoming is the only team that can erase that chalk.

The Rebels, and their fans, would prefer that not happen, but if they're going to move on they're going to need to match the Cowboys' physicality. UNLV is playing in its home stadium, but it's not the same court — they brought in the same court used for the Carrier Classic this year — and there was a resounding chorus of boos from the stands when the Rebels took the court. That came from not just Wyoming, but every fan not UNLV's particular shade of red.

The Cowboys played better last Saturday than an 11-point loss indicates, and if they weren't rattled by that environment, they'll be fine in this one. The key for them is to bring that same physicality, hit some 3s and try to stay out of foul trouble this time.

For the Rebels, a victory could come a lot of ways — they are by far the more talented team — but the one coach Dave Rice would probably most like to see is UNLV inflicting its will on Wyoming. That means pushing the tempo, creating turnovers and playing with an attitude. The latter is something the Rebels have lacked on the road this year, and they'll need it if they're going to have any success in the NCAA Tournament.

This is far from a road environment, but it's not quite a home one either, and it's also the Rebels' last chance to work on things before the tournament. If you're looking for indications for potential NCAA Tournament success, that's where you start.

New Mexico advances to semifinals in 15-point win over Air Force

New Mexico is one step closer to reaching its first Mountain West Conference tournament championship game in seven years.

The Lobos did exactly what they were supposed to do in their quarterfinal matchup. New Mexico easily advanced past Air Force in a 79-64 victory.

Coach Steve Alford’s bunch now awaits the winner of the nightcap between UNLV and Wyoming in tomorrow’s semifinals.

Sophomore guard Demetrius Walker played a key role for the Lobos against the Falcons. New Mexico went on a 15-1 run midway through the first half behind aggressive play from Walker.

The Arizona State transfer repeatedly drove to the basket. His aggressiveness paid off with a career-high 19 points off the bench. New Mexico starters Drew Gordon, Kendall Williams and Tony Snell all put up double-digit scoring totals in the victory.

New Mexico dominated a number of statistical categories, most notably scoring 28 points off of 34 free-throw attempts. Air Force went 15-for-20 from the line.

The Falcons momentarily cut the Lobos lead to nine with four minutes to go. But New Mexico scored the next seven points to kill any hopes of a comeback.

New Mexico maintaining safe lead against Air Force

Barely a minute has gone by in the second half of the Mountain West Conference tournament quarterfinal between New Mexico and Air Force without a player heading to the free-throw line.

The constant foul calls have given the third contest of the day at the Thomas & Mack Center a plodding, if not unwatchable, pace. New Mexico is fine with it, however, as it leads Air Force 63-50 with nine minutes to play.

The Lobos led by 13 at halftime and have kept the same distance from the Falcons for most of the second half.

New Mexico is 26-for-31 from the free-throw line. Air Force hasn’t gone to the line much in comparison, converting 11 of 16 attempts.

Four players have scored in double figures for New Mexico, including Kendall Williams and Tony Snell who each have 10 points. Air Force junior Michael Lyons leads all scorers with 15 points.

New Mexico in total control at halftime against Air Force

Rest up for the final game of the night, UNLV fans.

There’s likely no reason to catch any of the second half in the game that precedes the Rebels quarterfinal showdown against Wyoming. New Mexico has fully dominated Air Force in the first half and heads to the locker room with a 45-31 lead.

If UNLV can beat Wyoming, it certainly looks as if the Rebels will have the opportunity to avenge the 20-point beat down they suffered to the Lobos three weeks ago.

Air Force has done a decent job slowing New Mexico’s starters. The Lobos, however, are getting exceptional production from their bench.

Sophomore reserve guard Demetrius Walker has exploded for 14 points in the first half. That’s two shy of a career-high from the Arizona State transfer.

Drew Gordon and Kendall Williams have combined for 16 points. The Falcons have also committed 18 fouls to aid the Lobos cause.

Michael Lyons is doing all he can for Air Force with 10 points. But he’s facing constant attention and double-teams from a New Mexico defense designed to slow him.

Lyons has gone 1-for-5 from the field, but knocked down seven of eight free throws. If the game continues like the first half, New Mexico coach Steve Alford could find an opportunity to rest his starters before tomorrow’s possible semifinal showdown with UNLV.

New Mexico builds early 11-point lead at MWC tournament

The Falcons have gone cold. The Lobos are heating up.

New Mexico has used an 12-0 run to take the lead from Air Force with 7:40 left in the first half at the Thomas & Mack Center. The Lobos are ahead 26-15.

Air Force has clanked shot after shot for the last four minutes, going 0-for-5 from the floor in the span. It has also turned the ball over four times.

New Mexico is excelling getting the ball inside and finishing. Drew Gordon already has seven points, while Demetrius Walker has chipped in eight of his own.

The Lobos also hold an 11-4 advantage on the boards.

New Mexico and Air Force tied at 10 early

The crowd is definitely going to play in New Mexico’s favor as the third quarterfinal game of the day drags on.

The Lobos brought a lively crowd along with them from Albuquerque. They’ve been conflicted with the start of the game, though, as the score is knotted up at 10.

The Lobos went inside early to build an 8-2 lead with buckets by both Drew Gordon and A.J. Hardeman. But their perimeter defense has left much to be desired.

Mike Fitzgerald and Kyle Green each knocked down open three-point looks for the Falcons to keep pace. Six minutes into the game, Air Force looks more poised to hang with New Mexico than in two previous meetings.

New Mexico vs. Air Force pre-game

The success New Mexico has achieved consistently over the past few years hasn’t translated to the Mountain West Conference tournament.

Despite winning or sharing three of the last four conference regular season titles, the Lobos have no tournament titles to show for it. Heck, they haven’t even advanced to the championship game.

New Mexico is 2-3 in the past three Mountain West tournaments. It looks to change that this year and has an ideal first opponent.

New Mexico, the two-seed, will tip off against seventh-seeded Air Force momentarily. On paper, it’s the most lopsided matchup of the first round.

Sports books have posted New Mexico as 14.-5 point favorites. In two previous games this season, the Lobos have beaten the Falcons by a combined 69 points.

New Mexico even went to Colorado Springs in January and administered an 81-49 walloping.

To call it like it is, Air Force has trouble matching up with New Mexico’s Drew Gordon and Kendall Williams. Gordon and Williams, two of the conference’s best players, are trouble for any team. But they’ve particularly tortured the Falcons by leading the Lobos in scoring in both games.

Stay tuned to lasvegassun.com for live coverage of New Mexico vs. Air Force.

Colorado State likely secures an NCAA berth with dominating victory against TCU

There was no doubt who the better team was from the first seconds of the Colorado State-TCU quarterfinal game Thursday afternoon.

The Rams dominated all facets of the game and blitzed the Horned Frogs for an 81-60 victory. CSU shot 52.6 percent from the floor, outrebounded their opponent 38-27 and held TCU to 2-for-20 shooting behind the three-point line.

Six CSU players scored in double figures, led by Piercen Hornung, who had a double-double with 16 points and 14 rebounds. The Rams also got big production from Wes Eikmeier (15 points), Will Bell (14), Dwight Smith (13), Dorian Green (11) and Jesse Carr (10).

Interior play seemed like it would be a deficiency for CSU with the sudden absence of forward Greg Smith, who sprained an ankle Wednesday, but it actually turned out to be a strength. The Rams notched 50 points in the paint, continually feeding the ball to their players positioned deep in the post.

Hank Thorns led TCU with 19 points, five rebounds and five assists in 38 minutes. Besides him, there wasn't much fight to be found from TCU's roster, which finished the year 17-14 overall.

The Rams (20-10) likely played themselves into the NCAA Tournament with the victory, and tomorrow night at 6 they get a chance to take down the top-seeded Aztecs, who earlier in the day won on a buzzer-beater against Boise State.

Colorado State crushing TCU by 20 midway through the second half

TCU has had no answers for Colorado State this afternoon.

The Rams' guards started the game on fire, and then the post players took over and have powered Colorado State to a 66-46 lead with 7:48 remaining.

As soon as the Horned Frogs started to fall behind, you could see their shoulders slump a bit with each Rams basket. Colorado State has more to play for and that's been apparent since the start of the game.

Vegas native Hank Thorns has 11 points, the only TCU player in double figures. Colorado State, meanwhile, has four, led by Pierce Hornung's double-double of 14 points and 11 rebounds.

Colorado State will have another chance to prove itself tomorrow in the semifinals against top-seeded San Diego State, but this performance alone should ensure that the Rams will be the fourth Mountain West team in The Dance.

Colorado State dominating TCU at half in its bid for an NCAA berth

Colorado State needs this game more, and the Rams are playing like it.

The interesting thing is that instead of relying on their guards to shoot their way past the Horned Frogs, the Rams are pounding the ball inside with ease despite the absence of Greg Smith. At halftime, Dwight Smith has 11 points and Will Bell has eight points on 4-of-4 shooting as Colorado State leads TCU 42-26.

Wes Eikmeier started the game with CSU's first eight points, including two 3-pointers. And it may be that shooting performance that opened up the lane and allowed the Rams to attack the paint so effectively.

CSU forward Pierce Hornung also has six rebounds and six points on 3-for-3 shooting. The Rams are outscoring the Horned Frogs 28-20 in the paint, which is bad news for TCU.

The Rams have the guards to win from the outside, and if they're dominating inside, too, then there's no way TCU can mount a comeback.

Colorado State is shooting 59.3 (!!) percent from the floor and is beating TCU in basically every statistical category.

The Horned Frogs' only chance int he second half is to seriously beef up their interior defense and hope that Hank Thorns, who has seven points, suddenly goes off.

Wes Eikmeier keys Colorado State's fast start against TCU

Colorado State is off to the exact type of start the Rams need in this quarterfinal matchup. First-team All-Mountain West pick Wes Eikmeier scored the team's first eight points and Colorado State is out to a 17-10 lead with 11:27 left in the first half.

The Rams' initial concern about an interior presence hasn't shown up yet as Will Bell and Dwight Smith have combined for seven points, all of them a result of their play in the paint. TCU is only keeping it close with breakaway baskets off of turnovers, but Colorado State is even besting them in that category (5-3).

The best thing the Horned Frogs have going for them is that Vegas native Hank Thorns is 2-for-2, and as UNLV fans know, that kid is dangerous when he gets off to good starts.

TCU is going to need more than that to hang around, though.

Colorado State takes on TCU with potential NCAA berth on the line

In about 10 minutes, TCU and Colorado State will tip off in the most important game of the day.

It will be tough to match the thrill of San Diego State's 65-62 victory against Boise State, but there's no arguing that this game carries more weight in the national picture. The Aztecs bettered their NCAA Tournament seeding, but the Rams are trying to secure a place in the Dance.

It's possible that Colorado State is already in, and considering the overall weakness of this year's bubble I think they absolutely should be, but one or two wins in Vegas would secure their position. The biggest problem now is that Colorado State is going to have to do it without junior forward Greg Smith, their second-leading rebounder and third-leading scorer. Smith, 6-foot-6, sprained his right ankle in practice Wednesday and he's day-to-day for the rest of the tournament. That's assuming that the Rams can get by TCU without him.

These teams split their regular-season series, with each team winning on their home court. The Rams needed double-overtime to dispose of the Horned Frogs back on Jan. 14 in the conference opener, and TCU won by four on Feb. 11. That was the beginning of a stretch of four wins in five games for the Horned Frogs, including victories against UNLV and New Mexico.

Add that with the fact that TCU took San Diego State to overtime on the final day of the regular season, and the Horned Frogs, led by Las Vegas native Hank Thorns, definitely have the talent to pull off the 5 over 4 upset.

Thorns was a first-team All-Mountain West selection, but so was Colorado State's Wes Eikmeier, and the junior isn't going to let the Rams go down with a fight. I think his performance, along with that of fellow junior guard Dorian Green, will be enough to allow Colorado State to overcome its loss on the interior and get an all-important victory.

Jamaal Franklin's buzzer-beating 3-pointer gives San Diego State 65-62 win

That’s why Jamaal Franklin is the Mountain West Conference’s Player of the Year. And, why his San Diego State team is so tough to beat in the league tournament.

The Aztecs, the two-time defending league champions, always seem unbeatable in Las Vegas during the tournament.

Franklin’s off-balance 3-pointer as time expired Thursday gave top-seeded San Diego State a 65-62 victory against Boise State in the tournament quarterfinals at the Thomas & Mack Center.

In a game that featured seven lead changes and five ties, San Diego State led 60-52 with four minutes remaining and seemed in cruise control. But Boise State went on a 10-2 run to even the game with about 25 seconds to play, using a 3-pointer from Anthony Drmic to trim its deficit to 60-55 with about two minutes left.

After Drmic made a pair of foul shots with 38 seconds to play to cut the deficit to 62-60, Boise State came up with a steal underneath its basket and quick field goal to even the game at 62-all.

Following a timeout, Franklin appeared to be running out of time near the top of the 3-point arc. That’s when he heaved up a shot from about 25 feet, hitting nothing but net for the game-winning points.

Chase Tapley had a game-high 20 points for San Diego State, which opened the second half 24-14 run and led by as many as 11 with less than 10 minutes to play. Franklin, the sophomore guard, had 19 points for 18th-ranked San Diego and Xavier Thames was also in double figures with 14 points.

Drmic paced Boise State with 19 points, while three others reached doubles figures — Thomas Bropleh with 11 points, and Kenny Buckner and Derrick Marks with 10 apiece.

At one poin, Boise State had made 6-of-9 of its 3-pointers. But the Broncos finished 8-of-18, struggling midway through the second half when San Diego State went on its scoring run.

Check back later for more on this game. Stayed with our blog all day — TCU and Colorado State have already started warming up for the second quarterfinal.

Chase Tapley, San Diego State take control against Boise State

San Diego State’s Chase Tapley scored five straight points in helping the Aztecs going on a 13-4 run Thursday midway through the second half against Boise State in the Mountain West Conference quarterfinals.

The scoring outburst by the Aztecs has turned a back-and-forth game into an eight-point lead for top-seeded San Diego State with 7:34 remaining, 54-46.

Tapley, Jamaal Franklin and Xavier Thames each have 14 points for San Diego State, which is playing for its third straight league title.

Boise State, which stayed close by shooting 51-percent in the first half, has made just 26-percent of its attempts in the second half. They’ve been outscored 24-14.

Boise State, San Diego State even at 38-all with 15 minutes left in MWC quarters

San Diego State opened the second half on a 6-0 run in taking its largest lead Thursday in the Mountain West Conference quarterfinals against Boise State, but the Broncos ‘ Anthony Drmic drained a pair of 3-pointers to even the score at 38-all with 15 minutes remaining.

The game — No. 1 seeded San Diego State against No. 8 Boise State — wasn't supposed to be this close. But it has been a back and forth affair with four ties and five lead changes.

Boise State is staying close because of its long-range shooting, making 6-of-9 attempts on 3-pointers.

Xavier Thames has a game-high 12 points for San Diego State, while three from Boise State — including Drmic — have eight points.

Boise State leading San Diego State at halftime in MWC quarters, 32-30

For a two-minute stretch late in the first half Thursday at the Thomas & Mack Center in the Mountain West Conference tournament quarterfinals, it appeared top-seeded San Diego State was going to flex its muscles and blow the game open against Boise State.

But San Diego State, the two-time defending tournament champions, couldn’t sustain the momentum and Boise State erased a small two-point deficit to grab a 32-30 halftime lead.

Boise State led by nine points with 6:56 to play in the half, but the Aztecs’ Jamaal Franklin quickly cut into the deficit with a 3-pointer in scoring a game-high nine first-half points. Chase Tapley added seven points for San Diego State, rattling in a 3-pointer with 1:24 to play in the half for a 30-28 San Diego State lead.

But Boise State, which has one win this year outside its home state of Idaho, didn’t back down in scoring the final four points of the half. Kenny Buckner, who had eight first-half points on 4-of-5 shooting, has been solid inside all game and converted a short jumper in the final seconds for the halftime lead.

Boise State is doing several things right in its upset bid. The Broncos are shooting 52-percent, have made 4-of-7 of their 3-pointers and hold a 17-10 edge in rebounds.

It should be a great second half — and a great day of basketball. This is the first of four quarterfinal games, including hometown UNLV taking on Wyoming.

Outside shooting helps Boise State's upset bid in first half against San Diego State

If Boise State continues with its hot shooting, the Broncos’ upset bid against top-seeded San Diego State Thursday in the Mountain West Conference quarterfinals will become a reality.

The Broncos are ahead 26-22 with 5:18 to play in the first half, connecting on 4-of-6 of their 3-pointers in leading by as many as nine points. Drew Wiley has knocked a pair of 3-pointers and has a game-high eight points for Boise State, and Kenny Buckner has six points.

San Diego State has also been solid from the outside in making 3-of-6 of its 3-pointers. Xavier Thames leads the Aztecs with eight points and league Player of the Year Jamaal Franklin has seven.

Boise State hanging tough early against top-seeded San Diego State

Boise State might just have one win this season outside its home state of Idaho, but the Broncos are hanging tough early Thursday in their Mountain West Conference quarterfinal game against top-seeded San Diego State at the Thomas & Mack Center.

The Broncos’ Kenny Buckner has four early points and Thomas Bropleh drained a 3-pointer to help Boise State to a quick start and 7-6 lead at the first media timeout.

Boise State seems content to be patient on offense and has been rewarded with two easy inside buckets from Buckner. And, Bropleh’s 3-pointer came with the shot clock expiring.

While it’s still early, it’s important to note that crazy things typically happen at the Mack during the league tournament. Still, it’s unlikely San Diego State — the two-time defending league champs — will be upset.

I’ll check back with everyone in a few minutes.

Bringing you all the action from the Mountain West Conference quarterfinals

Whether or not the Mountain West Conference sends four teams to next week’s NCAA Tournament will partially be determined Thursday at the Thomas & Mack Center during the quarterfinal round of the Mountain West Conference tournament.

The top four seeds — No. 1 San Diego State, No. 2 New Mexico, No. 3 UNLV and No. 4 Colorado State — are each in contention for spots in the ‘Big Dance,’ according to tournament field projections by several experts. One team, more than likely one of the top four seeds, will earn the league’s automatic bid for winning the tournament.

As for the others …

The Big 3 of New Mexico, San Diego State and UNLV are locks to earn berths, while Colorado State is firmly on the bubble and desperate to enhance its resume at 2:30 p.m. today when it takes on fifth-seeded TCU in the quarterfinals.

Welcome to what is widely considered one of the best days of the college basketball season — the quarterfinal round, or opening day, of the league tournament for several major conferences. Across the nation, nearly 50 games will be played today, including several starting in the morning and afternoon to give everyone an excuse for a long lunch.

At the Mack, the action starts at noon when league power San Diego State (24-6) begins its tournament title defense against No. 8-seeded Boise State (13-16). The Aztecs, ranked No. 18 nationally, are the first team in the 13-year history of the league to win four straight titles — claiming the past two regular season and tournament championships. Boise State, meanwhile, has just one victory this season outside its home state of Idaho.

Despite losing four starters from last year’s team, San Diego State hasn’t missed a beat in riding the performances of sophomore guard Jamaal Franklin to another solid season. Franklin, who has scored in double figures in his past 17 games, was voted this week as the league’s Player of the Year.

The afternoon tilt between Colorado State (19-10) and TCU (17-13) is the most interesting. Colorado State is a slim four-point betting favorite in playing for its NCAA life and will have to contain TCU senior guard Hank Thorns, an all-league first-team selection and graduate of Valley High in Las Vegas.

During the evening session, New Mexico (24-6) is favored by 15 points against No. 7-seeded Air Force (13-15), and judging by the pro-Lobos crowd Wednesday when the New Mexico women knocked out UNLV, should have a distinct advantage from the crowd.

UNLV plays in the nightcap against Wyoming, which it beat last Saturday in the regular-season finale. UNLV was a perfect 16-0 on its home floor this year, and is a betting favorite to win the tournament despite being the No. 3 seed. Check out the Sun’s preview of the game for more.

The Sun’s sports staff will keep you posted on day for the Mack. Make sure to follow us on Twitter — Sports Editor Ray Brewer twitter.com/raybrewer21, UNLV writers Taylor Bern twitter.com/taylorbern and Case Keefer twitter.com/casekeefer.

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