New Mexico goes to San Diego State and leaves with first place

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Back in October, the team that we all thought was going to be the best in the Mountain West was New Mexico. It took awhile for those Lobos to show up, but this has been a different team since they lost to UNLV back in January.

And they showed it on Wednesday night, going into SDSU’s Viejas Arena and knocking off the No. 13 Aztecs 77-67. Kendall Williams led the way with 21 points — including three ridiculous threes in a row to spark a 16-1, game-deciding run — while Drew Gordon added 17 points and 17 boards.

In their previous five games, New Mexico’s defense has turned into a thing of legend. They had not allowed an opponent to score more than 54 points against them since the UNLV loss. And while the Aztecs did break the 54 point barrier in a losing effort, New Mexico held Chase Tapley to just seven points — all of which came in the final three minutes when New Mexico had firm control of the game — on 3-11 shooting.

The magnitude of this win for New Mexico cannot be overstated. The Lobos currently own sole possession of first place in the Mountain West, sitting a game in front of both SDSU and UNLV, and host UNLV on Saturday. A win in that game and all the Lobos have to do to is sweep their last four games — teams they beat by a combined 105 points the first time through MWC play — to lock up the regular season title.

What’s more is that a win at Viejas Arena gives the Lobos the kind of resume boost they needed to lock up their NCAA Tournament standing. Barring a collapse down the stretch, the Mountain West will be sending three teams to the NCAA Tournament.

The only downside is that, after Saturday, we are going to have to wait for the conference tournament to start to see a rematch between the top three in the MWC — New Mexico, UNLV and SDSU. After the Runnin’ Rebels pay their visit to The Pit, the round robin between these teams will be complete.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.