Russ Smith struggled offensively in the Big East Tournament, but Rick Pitino was pleased with the…
Portland's Rose Garden will be the site and 12-seeded Long Beach State (25-8) for No. 21/22 New Mexico (27-6), which won the Mountain West Conference Tournament title Saturday afternoon with a 68-59 win over top-seeded San Diego St.
"Its pretty exciting," said freshman guard Hugh Greenwood. "We've got Long Beach State and they played a really strong non-conference schedule, they've played some really tough teams. It's going to be a tough match up for us. "
The 49ers start four seniors, including guard Casper Ware, who single-handedly led LBSU to the Big West Conference tournament title Saturday night, scoring 33 points and hitting 8 three-pointers. The 49ers lost just one game in conference play but could be without senior leader Larry Anderson, who sat out of the title game.
The Lobos enter the post season having won five in a row and 12-of-14 games in MWC play. Though many observers predicted the five-seed, senior guard Phillip McDonald said he hoped for a higher seed.
"I personally feel that we deserved a four seed, but a five seed will work," said McDonald. "I thought it would be a four-seed after winning the tournament. The teams in the Mountain West are pretty tough to play against but I think it'll work out for us."
He said the Lobos would likely use the slight as motivation against the 49ers.
"We're built of being disrespected all the time," said McDonalds. "Our team loves being the underdog. Coach loves it and I think we play better when we're underdogs."
Head coach Steve Alford has preached a "one-game-at-a-time" approach all season, which his players have bought into. But addressing a potential match-up against four-seed Louisville on Saturday in Portland and a potential game against top-seeded Michigan St. the next week, Greenwood said it "would be a lot of fun."
"They're one the teams you always see on national TV, so you know, they're the ones with the big games," Greenwood said. " So you always look forward to playing them."
Senior Drew Gordon, who responded to a snub for the regular season Player-of-the-year award with an impressive three-game stretch that earned him the MWC tournament Most Valuable Player award, said the relative strength of the MWC this season will help the team in the postseason.
"Playing that caliber of teams this late in the season helps," said Gordon. "Beating UNLV and San Diego State was big and in order to beat those teams we had to be at our best. We kind of on a roll now but it's another season. We're 0-0 right now and we have to try and win as many games as we can to make the championship. We're ready for it. I think we're playing good basketball but we can get better, which is a scary thought."