DENVER (AP) -- UNLV used its athleticism and aggression to put a quick end to New Mexico's hopes of a fourth straight Mountain West Conference tournament title.
The Rebels posted a 57-45 upset of the Lobos (No. 20 ESPN/USA Today, No. 21 AP) in the quarterfinals Wednesday on the strength of Sherry McCracklin's 15 points and 12 boards and a 15-1 game-ending run.
The sixth-seeded Rebels (18-10) will face Utah (22-6), the tournament's second seed, in the semifinals Friday at the Pepsi Center.
The Lobos (21-9), who had expected to earn the conference's automatic bid for a fourth year in a row, were suddenly left to ponder what their early exit would mean when the NCAA Tournament field is announced this weekend.
"This isn't a positive on our resume for the selection committee," Lobos guard Abbie Letz said.
Sheena Moore got 12 points and Sequoia Holmes and Nikki Hitchens each added 10 for the Rebels.
Dionne Marsh led New Mexico with 18 points before fouling out with 3:44 remaining, and Letz added 11 points and 10 rebounds.
The Rebels went 9:24 without a basket in the second half but, unlike the Lobos, got to the line, where they hit all six of their free throws, four by McCracklin, during the drought to keep New Mexico at bay.
McCracklin was 7-of-7 from the stripe. Overall, UNLV was 9-of-12 from the foul line and the Lobos were just 2-of-4.
Moore's basket snapped the Rebels out of their shooting funk and gave UNLV a 42-41 lead with 6:07 left. Then, Katie Montgomery hit an NBA-range 3-pointer to restore New Mexico's lead to 44-42 with 5:43 left, forcing UNLV coach Regina Miller to call a timeout.
"My coach was like, 'That's it for them. They're getting no more 3s. If anything, they need to earn it,'" McCracklin recounted. "We took that to heart and just said, 'We're not going
to let them hit any more shots on us.'"
And they didn't, allowing no buckets and just one free throw the rest of the way.
Holmes tied it with a basket underneath and then stripped Montgomery for an easy layup that gave the Rebels the lead for good at 46-44.
Marsh, who had taken a seat at the eight-minute mark after picking up her fourth foul, quickly turned the ball over after re-entering the game. Moore then spun to the basket for a field goal and was fouled by Marsh with 3:44 left. Moore missed the bonus, but teammate Kameca Simmons got the basket on the rebound for a 50-44 lead.
Jana Francis pulled New Mexico to 50-45 with a free throw but that was it for the Lobos.
"They really just exploited our weaknesses. Blocking out was a little difficult for us today," Marsh said. "They may not always make their first shot, but they crash the boards hard."
The Rebels' strategy to defend the 3-pointer worked well: Marsh didn't attempt a single shot from beyond the arc and the Lobos were just 5-for-19 from long-range, making them a long shot to get a favorable seeding in the NCAA Tournament.
"First of all, we have to be invited. That's not a given," Lobos coach Don Flanagan said. "I think personally we've done enough, played a good enough pre-conference schedule, then done well throughout the year."