LAS VEGAS (AP) - The San Diego State Aztecs trailed New Mexico by 11 points just before halftime in the Mountain West Conference tournament championship game and Jamaal Franklin had just been whistled for a foul.
TV cameras appeared to show the Mountain West Conference Player of the Year flipping the middle finger at the referee.
Franklin denied it.
"No, not at all," Franklin said after the 18th-ranked Aztecs were overpowered 68-59 by the Lobos, who won the title and an automatic NCAA tournament berth.
Assistant coach Tony Bland, who tried to calm the star guard, later said he didn't see a gesture.
"I just thought he was frustrated," Bland said. "I didn't know exactly what was going on. I just went up to him. It was a tough game. We were losing. I just wanted to calm him down and let him know we had a whole other half."
Tony Snell made four 3-pointers in the first half and finished with 14 points, and Drew Gordon had 12 po! ints and 12 rebounds for coach Steve Alford's Lobos (27-6), who are headed to the NCAA tournament for the second time in three seasons. This is their first MWC tournament championship since 2005.
Kendall Williams also had 14 points for the Lobos, who shared the regular-season title with San Diego State but were the No. 2 seed due to a tiebreaker.
San Diego State (26-7), which never led, is expected to get an at-large NCAA bid. Chase Tapley scored a game-high 25 for SDSU while Jamaal Franklin, the MWC Player of the Year, had 16 points and 10 rebounds.
Playing before a loud, partisan crowd at UNLV's Thomas & Mack Center, the Lobos set a fast pace early, dominating down low and behind the arc, and the cold-shooting Aztecs never caught up.
New Mexico had a 17-point lead with 6:34 left before going cold in the last four minutes, allowing SDSU to get within five points with 1:21 to go.
Snell hit his first 3-pointer less than two minutes in for a ! 5-2 lead and then Gordon converted a three-point play to make it 8-1. Williams made a jumper in the key and Gordon scored off a rebound to make it 12-4.
Snell's third 3-pointer gave New Mexico an 18-6 lead with 10:28 before halftime. He hit his fourth one 27 seconds before the buzzer to make it 34-23 at halftime.
San Diego got within eight points twice late in the first half, but could get no closer. With SDSU trailing 29-21, DeShawn Stephens missed the front end of a one-and-one. Kendall Williams answered by making both ends of a one-and-one to push the lead back to double digits.
"I thought we were atypical, for whatever reason," SDSU coach Steve Fisher said. "And, again, I don't want to dismiss what New Mexico did. They are a terrific basketball team. We shot it too quickly, especially early. We've talked about, 'Don't settle, don't settle for a quick, hard shot. Quick, good shot is fine.' And we had some of those that didn't go in.
"But I thought we looked like we were playing twice as fast as we should be playing ! at the offensive end and I couldn't get us to settle into any kind of a rhythm, and it showed."
The Lobos didn't slow down in the second half. After SDSU's James Rahon missed a 3-pointer on the opening possession, Gordon dunked and then Hugh Greenwood, a freshman point guard from Australia, hit a 3 for a 39-23 lead.
A night earlier, the Lobos fell behind No. 20 UNLV 12-0 and 17-4 before rallying late in the first half.
The Aztecs were trying to win their third straight MWC tourney title.
The teams split the regular-season series, with SDSU rallying from a 10-0 deficit to win by five points in Albuquerque, and the Lobos winning by 10 in San Diego.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.
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