Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Sunday, March 9, 2014 | 3 a.m.
Those passionate New Mexico basketball fans chanted their rallying cry, “Everyone’s a Lobo, Woof Woof Woof,” so many times it echoed through the Thomas & Mack Center as if the game were being played in Albuquerque.
UNLV fans, easily outnumbered 2-to-1, seemed nonexistent in their home arena during last year’s Mountain West tournament championship game.
New Mexico won its second straight title, and its fans made sure everyone knew which team was best.
Mountain West Championships
When: March 12-15. Men’s championship is 3 p.m. March 15
Where: Thomas & Mack Center
TV: CBS Sports Network, 1333 HD on COX
Radio: ESPN 1100 AM
More information: TheMW.com
The tournament returns this week, and fans from some Mountain West schools are again complaining that UNLV has an unfair advantage.
But UNLV hasn’t won the tournament since 2008 despite having NCAA Tournament-qualifying teams in four of the five seasons. And the league makes sure it’s a neutral-site event. UNLV doesn’t use its locker room, the event isn’t part of the UNLV season ticket package, and the Mack is transformed into a neutral-site arena with league logos, sponsor decals and a league public-address announcer.
Sure, UNLV is familiar with the rims and it doesn’t have the burden of travel, which partially explains its league-best 20-8 all-time record in the event and eight appearances in the championship game. But the momentum created by fans is what UNLV has lacked in recent years.
There is rarely an empty seat, but New Mexico, San Diego State and BYU (before it left the league) have brought more supporters than UNLV.
Don’t expect the trend to change this year, which is unfortunate for UNLV because it needs to win the league tournament to return to the NCAAs. If the Rebels run the table by winning three games in three days, they could salvage an underachieving season.
UNLV will likely be have to play both New Mexico and San Diego State, meaning the Rebels will be the “road” team in two of the three games. Hello, NIT.
There’s hope, at least, that another early exit could kill talk of a UNLV advantage.