Dick Harmon: BYU-New Mexico III: a sure showdown bet in Las Vegas
Will we get a highly anticipated showdown between New Mexico and BYU on a neutral court come Saturday?
Let us think about it for a second. Yes.
New Mexico is on a sustained, impressive roll, and BYU's second team is beating up on folks.
Those are two reasons why the MWC's two ranked teams should find themselves facing one another Saturday night in the championship game of the MWC tournament in the Thomas & Mack Center at UNLV.
The Lobos (28-3) and BYU (28-4) carved out three- and two-game leads on the league's nearest finishers, UNLV and San Diego State, respectively. Both have firepower, playmakers and momentum on their respective sides. They have the coaching.
The Lobos won an impressive 14-straight games to win the league crown. In so doing, they avoided any serious injury or sickness. Steve Alford took talent and molded it into am Indiana Hoosier-type disciplined offensive and defensive menace.
UNM has Player of the Year Darington Hobson and fire bombers Phillip McDonald and Roman Martinez on the wings and outstanding point guard Dairese Gary beautifully sets them up.
These Cougars have surfaced as BYU's all-time winningest squad. Led by Jimmer Fredette, BYU has plenty of playmakers in Jackson Emery and Tyler Haws, with veteran Jonathan Tavernari off the bench. Rose has the league's No. 1 scoring offense (83.1 ppg) with a whopping 18.7-point margin of victory.
BYU's bench could provide the fuel to carry Dave Rose's squad to success in post-season play, which begins Thursday with a rematch with TCU. Seven different players have led BYU in scoring, and eight separate faces have been on the top rebounder slot.
In the past two weeks, nobody in the league has found bench bullets like Rose.
In tournaments, when multiple games tire legs and shooters' elbows, the Cougar bench could be the silver bullet for Rose. It delivered lethal blows against Utah and TCU, and the "Michael Loyd Show" nearly got it done against the Lobos sans Fredette.
In BYU's last three games, the entrance to the floor by a quartet of bench players (Loyd, Tavernari. Brandon Davies and Charles Abouo) has ignited the Cougars.
The tally includes 34 bench points against the Lobos (Loyd with 19); 42 against Utah (Davies with 21) and 61 at TCU (23 by Tavernari). That is an average bench production of 45.6 points in those games. The average point production by the MWC's four lowe-tier offenses (TCU, Utah, Colorado State and Air Force) is 63 points a game.
Alford will be the first to tell you, however, it takes a lot of luck to produce the kind of season his championship team experienced heading into this week's tournament in Las Vegas.
"You have to be lucky with no injuries, no health issues, 30 games with the same starters. You have to be lucky, and we got on a roll, found some momentum. We were deeper than we thought we'd be, and all shot it well."
The MWC coaches and media showered Alford's squad with honors Monday, and as a No. 1 seed, they'll be formidable even though odds say the league champion has won the tournament just two times.
There is no predictable reason New Mexico shouldn't reach the final.
BYU must get a three-peat over TCU on Thursday to get host UNLV on Friday. The Rebels are favored to prevent Utah's three-peat of UNLV in the first round.
UNLV has been BYU's demise in this tournament since Las Vegas has been the host. But the up-and-down Rebels would be hard-pressed to make nine 3-pointers in the first half like they did earlier this season against BYU, a team that ended up outscoring UNLV the next 30 minutes in a loss.
New Mexico versus BYU Part III: In all practicality, two 28-win ranked teams should meet one another in a three-game, winner-take-all situation like this.
Count on it.
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