LAS VEGAS - Steve Alford still had the net around his neck when the lobbying began for his New Mexico Lobos.
No. 1 in the Mountain West Conference, for sure. But how about a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament?
Improbable, yes, if only because this is the Mountain West after all. But Alford made it clear Saturday he wasn't going to settle for just being a No. 2.
"We've got to be in the talks," Alford said.
In a college basketball season where parity reigns, Alford wasn't speaking out of turn. Not after his No. 15 Lobos beat UNLV 63-56 to win a conference that conceivably might get five invitations to the NCAA tournament.
"I'll put our starting five up against anybody," Alford said. "I just hope our league gets the respect it should have."
New Mexico added the conference tournament title to its regular season crown with a gritty win on UNLV's home court, fueled by the late scoring of Tony Snell, who scored 13 of his 21 points in the last eight minutes. The Lobos (29-5) lost only twice in league play, but the final win might be the one that gets them real attention from the NCAA selection committee.
With the nation's No. 2 strength of schedule and the No. 2 RPI, it's hard to make a case against the Lobos at least being a No. 2.
"It's just a special team," Alford said. "They have just been battling their tails off all year long."
Snell scored 13 straight points for New Mexico during a second-half run, and the No. 15 Lobos pulled away late before a frenzied crowd of 18,500 on UNLV's home court that seemed equally split between the teams.
Snell carried New Mexico down the stretch, making three three-pointers and adding a pair of field goals as the Lobos took over in the last 8 minutes of the game to win the conference title and the rubber game of the series between the teams this season.
"I think we deserve a No. 2 or higher," Snell said.