It took a strong performance by Drew Gordon, New Mexico's heavyweight in the middle, to deliver a knockout blow to UNLV.
Gordon's muscle was too much for the Rebels, who came out swinging Friday night until meeting their demise because of inconsistent perimeter shooting.
Gordon, a 6-foot-9-inch senior forward, had 19 points and 13 rebounds to lift the second-seeded Lobos to a 72-67 victory over UNLV in a Mountain West Conference tournament semifinal at the Thomas & Mack Center.
"We came out hot, and they answered the call," said junior guard Anthony Marshall, who led the Rebels with 19 points. "It's very disappointing. To end the regular season like this, it's hurtful."
Third-seeded UNLV (26-8) lost on its home court for the first time in 18 games this season.
New Mexico (26-6) advanced to meet No. 1 seed San Diego State in the championship game at 4 p.m. today. The Aztecs eliminated Colorado State 79-69 in the first semifinal.
Tony Snell scored 15 points, 10 in the second half, and Demetrius Walker added 12 for the Lobos. Kendall Williams made four free throws in the final 26 seconds to seal the win.
Oscar Bellfield finished with 13 points and Mike Moser had 11 for the Rebels, who will wait until 3 p.m. Sunday to learn their postseason fate when the NCAA Tournament field is announced.
"We had high hopes for what we could accomplish this weekend. We're disappointed right now," coach Dave Rice said. "But we'll come back. The great thing is the season is not over."
The Rebels were running wild from the start, with Chace Stanback sinking a 3-pointer 27 seconds into the game. Bellfield followed with back-to-back three-point plays, and after Marshall made a 3 from the corner, it was 12-0.
The Lobos stopped the run on Walker's layup. But Bellfield struck again, this time with a 3-pointer, to put UNLV up 17-4 with 16:26 remaining.
It took only 3½ minutes for New Mexico to make most of its deficit disappear. The Rebels' jump shots stopped falling, and Gordon's layup capped a 10-0 run that brought the Lobos within 17-14.
Senior guard Kendall Wallace came off the bench and provided a boost, hitting consecutive 3s to extend UNLV's lead to 29-20 with 6:07 to go.
But that lead didn't last long, either, and Jamal Fenton's floater in the lane tied the game at 29 with 1:56 left. Snell's two free throws gave the Lobos their first lead on their next possession.
The Rebels, outmatched inside and relying almost exclusively on long-range jumpers, shot 6-for-7 to open the game but went 6-for-25 the rest of the first half.
"We were making 3s, but the shots stopped falling," said Marshall, who shot 4-for-11 from the field and 10-for-12 on free throws.
The Rebels hit 8 of 24 from 3-point range, with Wallace making three. Wallace's 3-pointer with two seconds remaining put UNLV up 34-31 at halftime.
"We took a big punch to the mouth to start the game. Our guys stayed poised and kept fighting," New Mexico coach Steve Alford said. "After that initial barrage of points, we settled down and played very good defense."
But Snell was the hot shooter coming out of the half, and the Lobos, who shot 52 percent for the game, started to take control. Gordon drew a foul on Brice Massamba and converted a three-point play, then drew another foul on the next possession and hit two free throws to give New Mexico a 64-56 lead with 5:52 remaining.
Moser hit a 3-pointer to pull the Rebels within 64-61, and Marshall's spinning drive into the lane for a three-point play tied the game with 2:23 to go.
Bellfield missed a 3, and Massamba picked up his fifth foul on the rebound with 1:35 to play. Walker's free throws put the Lobos back up two.
On its next possession, UNLV went to the play that worked best in the second half, as Marshall beat a defender off the dribble and attacked the rim. But Marshall hit only the second free throw.
Walker was fouled with 50 seconds to go and hit both free throws to put New Mexico up 68-65.
Marshall drove again but missed, and the Lobos won the battle for the rebound, as they did most of the night. Williams was fouled with 26 seconds left and hit both free throws.
"We gave it a good effort," Moser said. "We just didn't make plays down the stretch. It's a tough loss to a good team."
Contact reporter Matt Youmans at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2907.