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New Mexico now MWC’s favorite, but are they best out west?

Feb 18, 2012, 4:08 PM EDT

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UNLV is not a very good road team. That much we knew heading into their Saturday afternoon (well, Saturday morning for those out west) matchup with New Mexico in Albequerque.

Considering that the Lobos are playing their best basketball of the season, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that New Mexico was able to beat No. 11 UNLV. In other words, if I was a betting man, I would have put my money on Steve Alford’s club.

What was surprising, however, was just how badly New Mexico beat down the Rebels. After trailing 27-26 at the end of the first half and finding themselves tied at 36 with 12 minutes left in the game, the Lobos used a 12-0 run to spark a 29-9 surge that closed the game, winning 65-45.

New Mexico’s defense was, once again, stifling. UNLV finished the game shooting 31.1% from the floor and 6-21 from three while turning the ball over 15 times. Over the final 12 minutes, as the Lobos made the game’s deciding run, UNLV was just 2-9 from the floor with six turnovers. At one point, the Lobos forced turnovers on four consecutive possessions, which sparked the game’s deciding run.

It is now official. New Mexico is the best team in the Mountain West. That’s what happens when, in the span of four days, you put together dominating wins over the two other contenders while taking over sole possession of first place in the league standings. On Wednesday, New Mexico beat San Diego State 77-67.

There is more to it that simply having the best record in the Mountain West. New Mexico looks like they may actually be the best team out west.

The biggest reason has been the recent play of Drew Gordon. After going for 17 points and 17 boards against SDSU, Gordon went for 27 points and 20 boards on 13-20 shooting against the Rebs. He was absolutely unstoppable on the block, and it wasn’t just because he was putting back offensive rebounds or finding himself on the finishing end of an alley-oop. Gordon was scoring with his back to the basket, which is something the big man hasn’t done consistently in his time with the Lobos.

With Kendall Williams and Jamal Fenton helping to make up for the recent struggles of Tony Snell, New Mexico has plenty of talent — and shooting — on the perimeter to keep the floor spread.

Throw in a talented bench rotation and plenty of size, and the MWC’s preseason favorite is finally starting to play like it.

This is a group with the horses to be a serious threat come March.

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

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