NCAA Basketball Mountain West BasketballUNLV Runnin' Rebels

Despite Loss To UNLV, New Mexico Still Best In Mountain West

Josh Holmberg-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier this season, New Mexico discovered the key to defeating UNLV: shut down Anthony Bennett. In their first meeting the Lobos held Bennett, the Mountain West’s leading scorer, to 12 points and six rebounds. On Saturday night, however, New Mexico wasn’t as successful.

The Rebels obviously needed a big game from Bennett when facing the No. 15 team in the nation, but UNLV’s freshman forward exceeded all expectations in the win in front of a home Las Vegas crowd. Bennett finished with a cool double-double, leading the Rebels with 17 points and 11 rebounds.

New Mexico had one bright spot in the 64-55 loss to UNLV, 7-foot tall center Alex Kirk. The Lobos giant finished with 17 points and an unbelievable 16 rebounds to lead New Mexico, six of which were on the offensive end. The Lobos’ local boy is slowly making a claim as one of college basketball’s most dominant big men.

Though no team likes to classify any loss as “acceptable”, Saturday’s defeat in Las Vegas couldn’t have come at a better time for the Lobos. New Mexico had won seven of their last eight conference match ups and may have been getting too comfortable. Though Kirk played outstanding, only seven points came by way of the bench. The Lobos can remain confident that their strength is their size and can continue playing the way they have all season. UNLV has always had one of the most dominant teams in the country, and a loss to the Rebels is a perfect building block nearing the end of conference play.

With the loss Saturday, the Lobos  sit .5 game ahead of second place Colorado State. Luckily for New Mexico, the Rams face a dangerous San Diego State squad that is just now beginning to get healthy again. When it comes to the top three teams in the conference (New Mexico, Colorado State, San Diego State) there’s no wrong pick for the conference championship. For New Mexico to finish the job Kirk has to receive support from the rest of the Lobos rotation.

Follow John Engel on Twitter: @engelsportsguy