Air Force’s Lyons, CSU’s Green hurt
LAS VEGAS, Nev. — The Thomas & Mack Center may be home to the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels during the regular season, but not in March.
As has become the norm, Wednesday’s quarterfinal game between the No. 15 New Mexico Lobos and the Wyoming Cowboys featured a sea of Cherry and Silver-clad fans.
Mountain West officials said they were able to confirm more than 3,200 all-session tournament passes being sold to UNM fans with “a conservative” estimate of another 1,100 single-game tickets sold Wednesday.
Several hundred boisterous Lobos fans staying at the South Point Hotel & Casino, where the Lobos are staying, lined the halls and held a bit of a pep-rally sendoff 2 1/2 hours before Wednesday’s game, cheering the team on as it walked behind the UNM band from the hotel elevators, through the casino and out to the team bus.
A pit boss at the South Point on Tuesday night told the Journal she’s a big UNLV fan and doesn’t care for the Lobos, but gets “really pumped up” every year UNM stays at the South Point and does its walk through the casino with the band playing.
RAM DOWN: Colorado State senior point guard Dorian Green, who Steve Alford has compared on multiple occasions to former Lobo Dairese Gary, missed Wednesday’s quarterfinal win over Fresno State with an ankle injury.
And things don’t look good for his return in time for Friday’s semifinal against UNLV.
Asked if Green will play Friday, CSU head coach Larry Eustachy didn’t sound optimistic.
“You know, if I had to guess, I don’t think he will,” Eustachy said. “It’s a little more than we thought. This tournament is extremely important, but obviously the NCAA Tournament is what we’ve worked for all year.
“If there’s any doubt at all, he won’t play.”
Fresno State, meanwhile, was playing without suspended freshman center Robert Upshaw, who had 11 rebounds in 21 minutes off the bench in Saturday’s upset of UNLV. A team official would not say Wednesday what Upshaw did to warrant the suspension, only that it was a violation of team rules.
STILL TARK’S HOUSE: Former UNLV head coach Jerry Tarkanian, who is a finalist for induction to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame this year, sat courtside Wednesday afternoon to not only watch his former Runnin’ Rebels squad beat Air Force, but also some of the next quarterfinal game between Colorado State and Fresno State, the team he coached after UNLV.
The 82-year-old Tarkanian is still very popular in Las Vegas with fans stopping by throughout the game to shake his hand and snap pictures.
GROUNDED FALCON: First-team All-Mountain West guard Michael Lyons of sixth-seeded Air Force, who on Saturday scored 30 in the Falcons’ upset of the Lobos, went down with a right knee injury early in his team’s loss to No. 3 seed UNLV. Air Force said after the game it is optimistic the injury is only a sprain.
The Falcons (17-13) are keeping their fingers crossed for an NIT invitation, but if Lyons’ knee injury lingers …
“I think we were in a position for a few minutes, ‘Where is he at?'” Air Force head coach David Pilpovich said of Lyons’ absence. “Our eyes were wide open. ‘Where is he at?’ It took us awhile to adjust.”
WE NEVER KNEW YOU: Future Mountain West member San Jose State (2013-14), which lost Tuesday in the Western Athletic Conference tournament across town, fired head coach Greg Nessman on Wednesday.
The 53-year-old Nessman went 86-161 in eight seasons at SJSU, including just nine wins in each of the past two seasons.
NEW MEXICO CONNECTION: Roswell High graduate and current Air Force forward Marek Olesinski, who had a career-high 15 points in Saturday’s upset win over UNM in Colorado Springs, had a team-high 13 points in Wednesday’s quarterfinal loss to UNLV.
He hit three 3-pointers Wednesday after going 4-for-4 from beyond the arc Saturday against UNM.
NBA SCOUTS: More than 45 NBA ticket/credential requests were put in for the Mountain West tournament. The two biggest pro prospects are UNLV freshman forward Anthony Bennett and San Diego State junior swing man Jamaal Franklin.
— This article appeared on page D3 of the Albuquerque Journal