Wyoming (18-13) at UNLV (19-12)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Thursday, March 13, 5:30 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Thomas & Mack Center (18,500) -- Las Vegas, Nevada. Television: CBSSN. Home Record: Wyoming 14-4, UNLV 11-7. Away Record: Wyoming 3-9, UNLV 6-5. Neutral Record: Wyoming 1-0, UNLV 2-0. Conference Record: Wyoming 9-9, UNLV 10-8. Series Record: UNLV leads, 33-15.
GAME NOTES: Enjoying the comforts of home, the UNLV Runnin' Rebels step onto the floor of the Thomas & Mack Center today as they host the Wyoming Cowboys in the quarterfinals of the 15th annual Mountain West Conference Tournament.
UNLV, which is the fourth seed in this year's event, made it back to the title game last year versus New Mexico but ended up losing by a score of 63-56. Nevertheless, the team is tied with those same Lobos for the second-most tournament titles with three, the last coming in 2008 versus BYU. Appearing in eight of the previous 14 championship games, it should come as no surprise that the Runnin' Rebels have an impressive 23-10 mark in the event dating back to 2000.
As for the Cowboys, they are one of seven current members still waiting to bring home the crown. The fifth seed this time around, Wyoming has played in the championship only once, coming up short versus San Diego State in overtime back in 2006 in a 69-64 final. The program is 7-14 in the tourney overall.
UNLV has won five straight meetings with the Cowboys, including a narrow 48-46 final earlier this season in this same facility. With that outcome the Runnin' Rebels pushed their overall advantage in the series to 33-15.
The winner today will be back in action on Friday in the semifinals versus the survivor of the Utah State/San Diego State matchup, for the right to take part in the title game on Saturday.
The Cowboys took a serious hit when leading scorer and rebounder Larry Nance Jr. (15.4 ppg, 8.6 rpg) was lost to injury. With Nance Jr. and his team-best 55 blocked shots and 37 steals taken out of the equation, the Pokes find themselves leaning on Josh Adams (12.5 ppg) and Riley Grabau (10.7 ppg). Grabau led the program with his 43.6 percent accuracy beyond the 3-point line as the Cowboys converted a combined 35.8 percent on the outside.
Also giving the Cowboys a lift down the stretch was Nathan Sobey (9.5 ppg), a 26.7 percent shooter from the outside who delivered 33 points in the regular- season finale versus Colorado State on Saturday. Unfortunately, even with that effort by Sobey, Wyoming still ranked next-to-last in the MWC in scoring with just 65.2 ppg. Luckily the defense picked up the slack by allowing only 61.5 ppg, but quite a bit of that had to do with the presence of Nance Jr. down low.
One of the nation's top rebounders and the third-leading scorer on UNLV, Roscoe Smith (11.0 ppg, 11.0 rpg) has missed time recently due to a concussion but is expected to be ready for today in some capacity. Bryce Dejean-Jones (13.4 ppg, 87 dishes) had been suspended recently for disciplinary reasons, but word is he will be available again today to direct the offense. Deville Smith (9.3 ppg, 84 assists) is a decent replacement, but the offense works at its peak under Dejean-Jones.
Khem Birch has established himself as a beast in the paint. Like Roscoe Smith, Birch also averaged a double-double with 11.8 ppg and 10.1 rpg, but the big man brought another critical element to his game in the form of aggressive shot-blocking. Of the 205 rejections logged by the Runnin' Rebels, 118 were produced by Birch, ranking him among the nation's best in that department and more than enough reason to name him the MWC Defensive Player of the Year, not to mention finding him on spot on the All-MWC Second Team.
More than anything else, it is the loss of Nance Jr., a member of the All-MWC First Team, that will be the reason why the Cowboys will be one-and-done in this tournament.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: UNLV 71, Wyoming 62
03/13 10:33:48 ET