LAS VEGAS - New Mexico coach Steve Alford has started a new fashion trend, but don't expect to see him on Project Runway any time soon.
For the second straight year, Alford came to the Mountain West championship game post-game press conference with a net adorned around his neck, an honor usually reserved for a team captain.
"Fans like it," Alford said after the 15th-ranked Lobos (29-5) held off third seeded UNLV, 63-56, before a championship game record crowd of 18,500 at the Thomas & Mack Center. "It's like my red blazer. I haven't worn a red blazer before either. It's not like they're a fashion statement. I know our fans like it."
No doubt Lobo fans enjoy what Alford has managed to get his team to accomplish on the court even more.
The three-time Mountain West coach of the year has directed New Mexico to at least part of a regular-season Mountain West championship four of the past five years, including an outright title this season. And the Lobos made it two straight Mountain West tournament titles with Saturday's victory.
Junior guard Tony Snell scored a game-high 21 points, including 10 in a row during one key stretch in the second half, to lead the Lobos, who garnered the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
The 6-foot-7 Snell connected on 12-of-20 3-pointers in three tourney games, including a Mountain West championship game record-tying five treys in seven attempts on Saturday.
"The guy who really got away from us today is an NBA player," UNLV coach Dave Rice said. "There's no doubt that Tony Snell is going to play in that league for a long time with the things he's able to do."
Coming into the tournament, Snell was somewhat overlooked. Backcourt mate Kendall Williams was named the league's player of the year while sophomore center Alex Kirk was selected to all-Mountain West second team. Snell earned a spot on the third unit.
"We'll put our starting five up against anybody," Alford said. "I think we have an outstanding starting five that is experienced, they're talented, and they understand winning. They understand the ebb and flow of a game, the importance of D stops, coming out of timeouts, getting to the free-throw line. Whatever it may be, they have a really good understanding of that."
New Mexico held a 46-45 lead with 10:03 remaining when Snell fueled a 10-2 Lobo run over the next seven minutes. He made a pair of 3-pointers, a reverse layup and finished it off with a drive to the basket that gave New Mexico a 56-47 lead.
UNLV (25-9) closed to within 56-53 when guard Bryce Dejean-Jones, who finished with a team-high 19 points, hit back-to-back 3-pointers.
But Snell sealed the win with his fifth 3-pointer of the game with 58 seconds to play.
"I just have more confidence now," Snell said of his hot shooting in the tournament. "My teammates always encourage me to keep shooting the ball whenever I miss it. My confidence definitely went up."
Williams finished with 12 points and seven assists and Hugh Greenwood added nine points, seven rebounds and five assists for New Mexico, which held UNLV to 33.9 percent shooting.
Freshman star Anthony Bennett finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds for UNLV but scored just two points in the final 32 minutes.
Bennett, regarded as a probable top five NBA lottery pick if/when he decides to leave college, scored UNLV's first 11 points, nailing a 3-pointer from the top of the key to go along with a pair of powerful dunks. Still, it was only good enough to give the Rebels an 11-11 tie at the first media timeout.
New Mexico then took a 19-15 lead when Greenwood sank 3-pointers on consecutive possessions. A steal and layup by Snell upped the lead to six points before Justin Hawkins banked in a 3-pointer to halt a 10-2 Lobos run.
The Rebels closed the gap to 31-29 on a pair of Anthony Marshall free throws but Snell answered with a long arching 3-pointer from above the top of the key to put the Lobos back up by five, 34-29. UNLV cut it to 34-32 at halftime when freshman guard Katin Reinhardt, who finished with 11 points, nailed a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
NOTES: Joining Snell on the all-tournament team were Bennett, Lobo forward Cameron Bairstow, who had nine points and seven rebounds in the finale while also playing tough defense on Bennett, Reinhardt and Colorado State center Colton Iverson. … New Mexico has a six-game tournament winning streak, its longest since joining the Mountain West Conference. The Lobos won five straight conference tourney games in 1996 and 1997 while competing in the WAC. ... Dejean-Jones accounted for 17 of UNLV's final 20 points. … The Lobos finished with seven turnovers, the second fewest ever in a Mountain West title game.