UNLV basketball:

UNLV’s Birch takes home league’s top defensive honor for 2nd straight season

Birch wins DPOY, all-defense and second-team honors, while two other Rebels receive distinction from the Mountain West

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV’s Khem Birch, Roscoe Smith and Bryce Dejean Jones defend New Mexico center Alex Kirk during the first half of their Mountain West Conference game Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014 at the Thomas & Mack Center.

The Rebels’ Khem Birch won the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year for the second straight season but missed out on first-team all-league accolades, it was announced today. UNLV’s Bryce Dejean-Jones and Roscoe Smith were also honored.

The Mountain West this morning released its all-conference awards, which are voted on by the league’s 11 head coaches and 22 select media members. League champ San Diego State swept most of the league’s top honors, winning Player of the Year (Xavier Thames) and Coach of the Year (Steve Fisher), as well as Newcomer of the Year (Josh Davis) and Sixth Man of the Year (Dwayne Polee).

Thames and Davis also made the first and third teams, respectively. The other individual award, Freshman of the Year, went to Fresno State’s Paul Watson.

Thames edged out New Mexico’s Cameron Bairstow for the top individual honor. Had the Lobos not blown a 16-point lead at Viejas Arena on Saturday, that decision would likely have been the other way around.

Joining Thames and Bairstow on the first team was UNR’s Deonte Burton, New Mexico’s Kendall Williams and Larry Nance, who missed Wyoming’s last five games because of a knee injury.

Nance was probably heading toward first-team status before the injury, and the Cowboys going in the tank with a 1-4 finish after his departure may have only helped his case. He was the one who likely edged Birch down to the second team.

Joining Birch on that squad was Boise State’s Ryan Watkins and Anthony Drmic, Colorado State’s Daniel Bejarano and Fresno State’s Tyler Johnson.

The Rebels’ leading scorer, Dejean-Jones, made the third team, along with Davis, Air Force’s Tre Coggins, Colorado State’s J.J. Avila and New Mexico’s Alex Kirk.

Birch led the all-defensive team, along with Nance, Kirk, Williams, Thames and SDSU’s Skylar Spencer. Roscoe Smith received honorable mention.

Taylor Bern can be reached at 948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Taylor on Twitter at twitter.com/taylorbern.

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