Tyrone Nesby hit a short jumper to put UNLV ahead, then clinched it with two free throws with 9.9 seconds left Saturday night as the Runnin' Rebels beat No. 20 New Mexico 56-51 in Las Vegas to win the Western Athletic Conference championship.
Before a frenzied home crowd, UNLV scored the last nine points of the game to cap an improbable run through the WAC tournament and gain an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1991.UNLV led most of the game, but trailed by a point when Nesby hit a 10-footer from the side to put the Runnin' Rebels ahead 52-51 with 1:18 left. After a New Mexico miss, Mark Dickel was fouled with 29.2 seconds remaining and made both free throws to give UNLV a three-point lead.
Lamont Long missed on two successive free throws and Nesby was fouled after getting the rebound, sending him to the line to ice the game with two more free throws.
The win was the fourth of the tournament for UNLV, which upset No. 5 Utah in the quarterfinals.
UNLV (20-12) had been given little chance to make the NCAA tournament unless it won the WAC tournament, and it did just that, taking advantage of a boisterous home crowd to play inspired defense throughout the tournament.
With fans singing "Viva Las Vegas," UNLV's tight defense forced the Lobos to shoot from the outside much of the game.
New Mexico (23-7) beat UNLV twice during the regular season and appeared ready to do it again when Kenny Thomas went inside for a layup that gave the Lobos a 51-47 lead with 2:44 left in the game.
That was the last points New Mexico would score, however, as Dickel hit a 3-pointer to get UNLV close and Nesby followed with a jumper to put the Rebels ahead.
It was the sixth win in a row for UNLV, which is 9-2 since suspended star center Keon Clark left the team for good.
Brian Keefe led UNLV with 18 points, Nesby had 14 and Kevin Simmons 13. Thomas had 17 points and 13 rebounds for New Mexico while Long had 12 points.
UNLV led the entire first half, taking its biggest lead of the game when Keefe hit a 3-pointer with 8:44 left to make it 23-10.
New Mexico came back with 10 straight points to cut the gap, but Keefe hit two more 3-pointers to help give the Runnin' Rebels a seven-point halftime lead.
NO. 1 DUKE 66, CLEMSON 64: At Greensboro, N.C., Duke needed a tip-in by freshman William Avery with less than a second left to beat Clemson and advance the Atlantic Coast Conference final against No. 4 North Carolina.
Elton Brand's tip-in with 15 seconds left put the Blue Devils (29-2) up 64-61. Clemson (18-13) raced down the court and Terrell McIntyre put up a 3-pointer that hit the front of the rim, bounced up near the top of the backboard and fell through the basket with 7.8 seconds remaining.
Duke came back and Avery put up a runner in the lane that bounced off the rim and caromed off to the right. But he tipped the ball back up off the backboard and in with three-tenths of a second remaining.
NO. 2 ARIZONA 91, NO. 19 UCLA 87: At Los Angeles, Michael Dickerson scored 30 points - two off his career high - as No. 2 Arizona avoided its second straight upset loss.
With UCLA ahead 85-84, A.J. Bramlett put back Mike Bibby's miss to give Arizona its first lead of the game at 1:38. Kris Johnson scored inside for what turned out to be UCLA's final basket and last lead at 87-86.
Dickerson scored two straight baskets to put Arizona on top for good, 90-87, with 22 seconds left. Baron Davis then missed an open 3-pointer from the right sideline with five seconds to play.
NO. 3 KANSAS 91, NEBRASKA 59: At Kansas City, Mo., Raef LaFrentz hit another career milestone as No. 3 Kansas scored 32 of the game's first 40 points en route to a rout of Nebraska in the semifinals of the Big 12 tournament.
The two-time Big 12 player of the year, bothered all week by a sore shoulder, scored 19 points and became the second player in Kansas history - and the 85th in the history of the NCAA - with more than 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds.
Paul Pierce added 17 points as the Jayhawks (33-3) stretched their winning streak to 12 in a row, beat Nebraska for the eighth straight time and handed the Huskers (20-11) their most lopsided loss of the season.
NO. 4 NORTH CAROLINA 83, NO. 21 MARYLAND 73, OT: At Greeensboro, N.C., Shammond Williams scored 10 of his 25 points in the overtime to lead North Carolina (29-3) to the Atlantic Coast Conference finals for the seventh time in the 1990s.
Williams made 2-of-3 free throws with four seconds left in regulation to tie the score at 66-66, then took over in overtime, scoring on a fast-break layup, a shot in the lane, a 19-footer and four free throws as the Tar Heels (29-3) scored on their first nine overtime possessions.
Vince Carter added 18 points and Antawn Jamison 15 as North Carolina pushed its ACC tourney semifinal winning streak to 11 straight dating to 1984.
NO. 6 CONNECTICUT 69, NO. 22 SYRACUSE 64: At New York, Connecticut's bench and defense brought it a third Big East tournament championship.
The top-seeded Huskies, who won the regular-season by two games, struggled offensively for the third straight game but still came away with a victory over second-seeded Syracuse.
Reserve Rashamel Jones had 17 points to lead the Huskies (29-4), who held the Orangemen (24-8) without a field goal for 8:28 of the second half as they wiped out a nine-point deficit.
NO. 7 KENTUCKY 99, NO. 16 ARKANSAS 74: At Atlanta, Kentucky destroyed Arkansas' vaunted pressure defense, shooting 63 percent in the first half and coasting to a victory in the semifinals of the Southeastern Conference tournament.
Kentucky (28-4) built a 58-33 halftime lead and Arkansas (23-8) never got closer than 20 the rest of the way. Twelve players scored for the Wildcats and five were in double figures, led by Jeff Sheppard with 17 points.
The Wildcats are seeking their sixth championship in seven years and 21st overall - no other school has more than six.
NO. 9 PURDUE 68, NO. 18 ILLINOIS 47: At Chicago, Brad Miller scored 19 points and led a defense that held Illinois to 36 percent shooting as Purdue advanced to the Big Ten title game by beating Illinois for the third time this season.
Chad Austin scored 22 points for Purdue (26-6), which will go for its 22nd conference title Sunday against No. 17 Michigan. The Wolverines defeated Minnesota 85-69 in Saturday's other semifinal.
Kevin Turner scored 12 points, six below his average, for Illinois (22-9), the regular-season Big Ten co-champion. Turner and Jerry Hester, the Illini's No. 2 scorer, combined to shoot 8-for-24 from the floor as the team had its lowest-scoring game and most lopsided loss this season.
NO. 15 SOUTH CAROLINA 87, NO. 10 MISSISSIPPI 77: At Atlanta, BJ McKie scored 37 points and Melvin Watson added 27 as South Carolina's backcourt duo led the Gamecocks into the Southeastern Conference championship game for the first time.
The Gamecocks (23-6 will play defending champion and No. 7 Kentucky on Sunday for the title.
McKie scored 24 of his points in the second half, including 20-of-22 free throws as the Gamecocks converted on 39 of 47 attempts (83 percent). Mississippi managed to make only 11 of its 22 attempts (50 percent).
NO. 11 STANFORD 85, OREGON STATE 77: At Stanford, Calif., Arthur Lee had 27 points and 10 assists as Stanford defeated injury-depleted Oregon State.
Kris Weems and Mark Madsen added 16 points each for Stanford (26-4, 15-3 Pac-10), which was sluggish for most of the game and shot just 47 percent after hitting a season-high 68 percent of its shots Thursday night in a 28-point win over Oregon.
Deaundra Tanner had 25 points and Jerome Vaden added 20 for the Beavers (13-17, 3-15), who lost seven of their final eight games.
NO. 14 CINCINNATI 71, N.C. CHARLOTTE 57: At Cincinnati, Kenyon Martin had five points and a block in a decisive second-half run that carried Cincinnati to the Conference USA tournament championship.
Cincinnati (26-5) won its sixth conference tournament title in seven years by exploiting its home court advantage and its depth against UNC Charlotte (19-10).
Martin had a basket, a tip-in, a free throw and a block during a 15-2 run that put Cincinnati ahead 53-40 midway through the half. He finished with eight points and six rebounds. Bobby Brannen had 16 points to lead four Bearcats in double figures.
NO. 17 MICHIGAN 85, MINNESOTA 69: At Chicago, Louis Bullock scored 23 points and Robert "Tractor" Traylor added 18 as Michigan showed its inside-outside versatility to beat Minnesota.
Michigan's 3-point shooting - the Wolverines made 13 Saturday - and the play of the burly Traylor were too much for Minnesota, which had beaten Northwestern and upset top-seeded Michigan State in the first two rounds.
Jerod Ward added 17 points for the Wolverines (23-8), who used a 15-0 first-half run to build a sizable lead and an 11-0 spurt in the second to finally secure the victory.