The road from Las Vegas to the NCAA Tournament rarely has been filled with potholes for the New Mexico State basketball team the past three seasons.
It was no different for the Aggies on Saturday.
Daniel Mullings finished with 18 points, eight rebounds and four assists, and No. 2 seed New Mexico State got little resistance from Idaho during a 77-55 victory in the final of the Western Athletic Conference tournament in front of 1,518 fans at Orleans Arena.
New Mexico State (26-9) defeated the fifth-seeded Vandals, No. 6 seed Cal State-Bakersfield and No. 7 seed Seattle to become the first team to win three straight WAC titles. The Aggies, who will find out their seed for the NCAA Tournament today, haven’t faced better than a No. 4 seed at any point in the WAC tournament the past three years.
“We are very excited, obviously, to bring home another championship to Las Cruces,” New Mexico State coach Marvin Menzies said. “We’re looking forward to whoever we may play. Making the tournament is obviously a goal we had. We’re excited to make it back, and hopefully we’ll make some noise when we get there.”
Sim Bhullar, a 7-foot-5-inch center, added 14 points and nine rebounds for the Aggies and was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player for the second straight year. Frontcourt mate Tshilidzi Nephawe had 12 points and seven rebounds as New Mexico State shot 55.8 percent from the floor and dominated down low.
The Aggies outscored Idaho 46-16 in the paint and owned a 38-21 rebounding advantage.
“They’re a handful down there,” Idaho coach Don Verlin said.
New Mexico State went on a 19-4 run during the first half and led 37-25 at the break. Mullings, who was cleared after being ejected late in the semifinal win over Cal State-Bakersfield for a Flagrant 2 foul, had 14 points in the second half to help the Aggies pull away.
Stephen Madison had 17 points to lead Idaho (16-18), which was playing in its final game in the WAC before leaving for the Big Sky next season.
In the women’s final, tournament MVP Stacey Barr had 28 points as top seed Idaho held off No. 3 seed Seattle 75-67 to capture its second straight title.
Alyssa Charlston added 17 points, six rebounds and four assists for the Vandals (25-8), who used an 11-3 second-half run to take a 57-51 lead.
Ashley Ward paced the Redhawks (15-16) with 17 points.
Contact reporter David Schoen at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-5203. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidSchoenLVRJ.