DENVER (AP) -- The selection committee can stop worrying about
New Mexico. A lot of NCAA Tournament teams out there might want to
The Lobos made their invitation to the NCAAs a formality
Saturday night, getting 28 points, 11 rebounds and four straight
clutch free throws from Danny Granger in a 60-56 victory over No.
15 Utah in the Mountain West Conference championship game.
"I think we are worthy of maybe a higher seed than they will
give us," Granger said of the committee members who will put out
the brackets Sunday. "Because we are one of the best teams in the
country right now."
Playing as though their season was at stake -- even though it
probably wasn't by this point -- the second-seeded Lobos (26-6)
jumped on Andrew Bogut and the top-seeded Utes (27-5) early and
kept them an arm's distance away most of the way en route to their
ninth straight win.
And when Bogut (19 points, 16 rebounds) triggered a 9-2 run that
gave the Utes a 49-48 lead with 3:35 left -- their first since
midway through the first half -- New Mexico responded. Alfred Neale
slammed home a miss for a 50-49 lead. David Chiotti made a move
that felled Bogut and led to an easy layup.
After two Utah free throws made it 52-51, Granger made two huge
baskets, forcing a shot over a defender under the basket for one
score, then dribbling to the baseline and shaking loose from
defender Marc Jackson for an open 15 footer that he buried for a
Bogut responded with a 3-pointer with 21 seconds left, but
Granger countered by sinking four free throws down the stretch to
keep it a two-possession game.
"He does everything but the Allen Iverson crossover," coach
Ritchie McKay said of his multitalented senior.
When the buzzer sounded, center Bambale Osby sprinted off the
bench and did two handsprings -- cheerleader style -- then the Lobos
went into the crowd to celebrate along with the thousands who
followed them up Interstate 25 to watch them earn their first NCAA
bid since 1999.
The win capped off quite a day for the Lobos. It began when New
Mexico beat Utah for the women's championship.
For the men, it was the 12th win over the last 13 games. Two of
those wins have come against Utah, the league's regular-season
champ, which now must wait for an at-large bid to make its fourth
straight trip to the NCAAs.
"We find out tomorrow if we are one of the 65," Utes coach Ray
Giacoletti said. "We see if our name comes up. And hopefully,
we've got a bad taste in our mouth."
The Lobos, meanwhile, celebrated their first conference tourney
title since 1996 -- when Dave Bliss was coach and they played in the
Western Athletic Conference.
They were on the tournament bubble because of their low RPI
rating (85th) and ultra-weak strength of schedule (298), but have
more than put to rest all those misgivings over a torrid stretch
that began with a win over UNLV at The Pit on Jan. 29.
McKay conceded that without the win, he would have been sweating
out the dozens of combinations that would or wouldn't result in a
trip to the tourney.
"I was planning to go home and watch Pacific-Utah State
tonight," he said. "I don't have to watch that one anymore."
Granger scored 18 of his points in the first half and well
outplayed Bogut, who was "held" to just 19 points by a defense
that fronted him with Chiotti, then brought help from the back-side
"They crowded him on every swing of the ball," Utah guard Tim
Despite that success, the Lobos couldn't build their lead into
double digits, and when the Utes shut down Granger through most of
the second half, it was clear this one would come down to the wire.
It did -- but it was Granger, not Bogut, who wound up holding the
trophy and being named the tournament's Most Valuable Player.
The Lobos, who were serenaded by chants of "Never Rated!" from
Utah fans in the pregame warmups, stayed around to cut down the
nets. By then, it was Lobo fans doing the chanting -- shouting
"Overrated!" and "NIT!" to the Utes, who were in their locker
while Granger, McKay and the rest were on the ladder with the
"I know our schedule was criticized, but we played elite
teams," McKay said. "We played Wake Forest. We played Utah three
times. We'll walk into whatever place we get placed, and we'll play