DENVER — So Utah sophomore center Andrew Bogut is the face of the Mountain West Conference.
He’s the league’s poster boy, the person the national media knows, recognizes and constantly praises.
Well, there’s more to the conference than just Bogut. A national ESPN audience was exposed to another gifted MWC player Saturday. They got to know and appreciate New Mexico’s Danny Granger, who personally carried the Lobos to a 60-56 win over Utah in the MWC men’s championship game, and into the NCAA Tournament.
Granger, the tournament’s MVP, finished with 28 points, including
four big free throws in the final 18 seconds to secure the automatic bid for the Lobos. He also scored 18 of the Lobos’ first 30 points in the first half.
“For those of you who left Granger off your All-America team, you need to get another vote,” said New Mexico coach Ritchie McKay, whose team is headed back to the Big Dance for the first time since 1999. “I can’t say enough about that young man.”
Actually, McKay couldn’t say much of anything. His voice was raspy from all the celebrating. Mc
Kay, who once coached Colorado State before heading off to Oregon State and then New Mexico, danced and pranced around with his squad after the final horn sounded.
“It’s such a privilege to lead this team,” said McKay, whose team becomes the sixth different MWC tournament winner in six years (meaning either Wyoming or Air Force is on the clock for next season). “I’m very thankful to be here.”
McKay doesn’t have to spend the night sweating out a tournament bid. He’s in and that will make him sleep just fine.
“This feels great,” Granger said. “This is a big achievement for our team.”
As the Utes left the court, the New Mexico fans began chanting, “N-I-T.” The Utes don’t have to worry too much about going to the National Invitational Tournament. They’re going to make the NCAA field. After all, they’re 27-5 this season, and ranked 15th. The committee can’t possibly leave Utah out, can it?
“We’ll find out (today) if we are one of the 65,” Utah coach Ray Giacoletti said. “If our name comes up, it will be a great honor to be in the tournament. We’ll start preparing ourselves.”
Utah can’t afford to shoot like this from the outside again. The Utes were ice cold from outside, and that allowed the Lobos to cover Bogut like a blanket down low.
“We’ve got to knock down shots to stretch the defense,” Giacoletti said. “They were daring us to shoot the basketball. There’s nothing we can draw up to get ourselves a better look.”
Even with Bogut drawing more attention than Brad Pitt in a public restaurant, the talented Utah sophomore still finished with 19 points and 16 rebounds, and was named to the all-tournament team.
“We surrounded him the best we could,” said New Mexico junior David Chiotti, who was wearing the net around his neck after the game. “He’s just a great player.”
As a national audience witnessed Saturday, the same can be said of Granger.