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Utes again: UNLV crushes Wyoming, 74-56, will open MWC tourney with Utah

Willis, Stanback lead charge as Rebels will now get a third chance to get the best the Utes

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Justin M. Bowen

UNLV big man Darris Santee high fives fans after the Rebels defeated Wyoming 74-56 Saturday at the Thomas & Mack Center.

Wyoming vs UNLV

With its fourth-straight win, a 74-56 victory over Wyoming on Senior Night, UNLV locked up the 3-seed in the Mountain West Conference Tournament.

UNLV-Wyoming Basketball

UNLV guard Steve Jones cheers from the bench during the game Saturday against Wyoming at the Thomas & Mack Center. UNLV closed the regular season with a 74-56 win. Launch slideshow »

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The third time around, how do you expect UNLV to fare against Utah on Thursday?

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The Rebel Room

WYOMING POSTGAME: Another dose of Utah

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Ryan Greene and Case Keefer take a quick look at UNLV's 74-56 Saturday blasting of Wyoming at the Mack, then look forward to the Rebels' third meeting of the season with pesky Utah ... and beyond.

After clearing one last regular season hurdle, Tre'Von Willis may as well have been foaming at the mouth on Saturday afternoon.

A 74-56 ripping of Wyoming at the Thomas & Mack Center, combined with Colorado State's 76-67 triumph over Utah some 800 miles east in Fort Collins, set the Rebels up to face the Utes in Thursday's quarterfinal round of the Mountain West tournament.

The game, played on UNLV's home floor, will be the third meeting between the two clubs this season. The Rebels' star junior guard couldn't help but flash a nice grin when talking about it.

The Utes, of course, are the only MWC team that Lon Kruger's squad has yet to beat this season.

"Me, personally, I'm very prideful," he said. "So I wouldn't have it any other way."

Willis & Co. will be heading into the league tournament after playing about as well as they could have hoped to in a four-game stretch to close out the season against the four teams in the bottom of the conference standings.

The Rebels (23-7 overall, 11-5 MWC) dispatched of the Cowboys (10-20, 3-13) in much the same fashion they did their previous two opponents. UNLV hounded Wyoming early on the defensive end, turned sweltering defense into easy offense and then successfully kept the steering wheel straight while on cruise control.

"Turnovers in the first half were a big key to the game, because we scored off of their turnovers," Kruger said. "Anytime you do that, it can create a bit of a margin, which we had at halftime."

UNLV led comfortably at the break, 44-23, after Wyoming turned the ball over 16 times in the game's first 20 minutes. The Cowboys, whose roster has been depleted throughout the year for various reasons, lost point guard JayDee Luster to a pulled groin at the break, and it was mere insult to injury at that point.

"When you think of Runnin' Rebel basketball, that's what you normally think of — pressuring the other team, making them very uncomfortable and making them handle the ball and do different things," Willis said. "They only had a couple of ball-handlers tonight, so we really wanted to disrupt them and do different things and definitely bother them."

On the other end, everyone got in on the act, starting with Willis. The Rebels' leading scorer on the season tallied a team-high 20 points to go with eight rebounds and five assists.

Meanwhile, sophomore forward Chace Stanback had 13 points and nine rebounds, while sophomore point guard Oscar Bellfield tallied seven points on top of his eight assists — compared to just one turnover — and four rebounds.

As a team, the Rebels were 31-of-63 from the floor, out-rebounded Wyoming 39-32 and recorded 23 assists and nine steals. It was the fourth consecutive blowout for the Rebels, who finished the regular season by winning their final four games by an average margin of 23.8 points.

The afternoon was capped for UNLV by seniorSteve “Chop” Jones hitting a baseline jumper to bring those remaining from a crowd of 14,116 to their feet in a roar.

And as soon as the clock struck zeroes, all attention in the building seemed to shift to the Utes, who after winning the MWC tourney a year ago at the Mack finished up the regular season 14-16 overall and just 7-9 in league play. They're also the only group in the conference that the Rebels have yet to beat this season.

The two will collide in the final game of the day on Thursday, tipping off at about 8:30 p.m.

In the first meeting, Utah prevailed in Vegas, 73-69, behind hot 3-point shooting from pesky freshman Marshall Henderson and a career night from 7-foot-3 sophomore center David Foster. Foster is now out, presumably for the rest of the season, with an ankle injury suffered recently.

The next time around, the Rebels looked as sluggish as they had all season in a 66-61 defeat in Salt Lake City. Despite 32 points from Willis, UNLV couldn't get in sync all night in a loss that put them firmly on the NCAA tournament bubble.

Now, the Rebels need to get the best of the Utes to solidify their status as an at-large candidate for the field of 65.

"Any team we play, I feel like it's going to mean a lot, anyways," Stanback said. "Even though it's Utah, we're still looking forward to the challenge."

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  1. "As a team, the Rebels were 31-of-63 from the floor, out-rebounded Wyoming 39-92 and recorded 23 assists and nine steals."

    Wow. 92 rebounds. That's one heck of a game. Might be an NCAA record . . .

  2. That was one of the most solid performances I have seen out of the rebels all year. These last few games they have looked like they did at the beginning of the year. Lots of momentum going into the MWC tourney. I think we got the easier of the schedules just as long as we can get through Utah. Come watch the games at the Mack Las vegas! Bring the community together!

  3. Caught that, bob. Thank you for pointing it out. Typo ...

  4. Let's face it: Thursday night's game against Utah will make or break UNLV's chances of going to the NCAAs. If we beat Utah, we are in. But if we stumble and lose, there is no way on Earth the selection committee would select UNLV as an at large team. The reasonning behind this is simple: If a team loses to an inferior team with a losing record THREE times (twice on home court), they could not (and should not) be invited to the dance. Go ahead and rip my head off for saying that, but if UNLV couldn't hang with the lowly Utes, how can they hang with the big boys.
    Having said that, I admit this UNLV team on the court is NOT the same team that lost to Utah on Feb 17th. UNLV seems to be playing great ball. Defense has picked up, shots are falling, and the team is peaking at the right time. Utah on the hand is limping in without key players including the 7'3" center, David Foster. I think we will win by double digits. But I can't help but think of SDSU's three game sweep of UNLV last year.
    So, as fans, it's our duty to be there Thursday night, be loud, push our team to clear this last hurdle on our way to the big dance.
    I got my ticket(s), do you?

  5. To quote one of my favorite Aussies, the Rebels need to "get physical" with this Utah team. They will push and grab and foul, etc. When they do that we need to do the same, make the refs make a call.

    This opponent scares me for that reason. Any game with Utah ultimately winds up in the hands of the referees, who have been mostly inconsistent to terrible all year in conference play. Should be interesting to watch, though.

    And I agree the Rebs need this one at MINIMUM to get the at-large bid.

  6. Agree with stlrunnin, we lose to Utah and we are done. If we beat Utah we are pretty much in barring a blowout loss to BYU(aint gonna happen)and lots of upsets in the conference tourneys. But if we lose to Utah there is no way the committee will not look to bubble teams in the power conferences with very good SOS and better RPI's to take UNLV's place. But just as many have said, we can't beat Utah we dont deserve a bid.

  7. You guys should tell that to Joe Lunardi. His updated bracketology as of 11pm last night have UNLV a "lock" to make the field and 22 other teams vying for the last 11 at large bids. the man has an accuracy rate of over 90% in predicting the tourney.

  8. Ya and Lunardi is 99% accurate in the last two years...

  9. Why the critical comments fellas? Last 4 games we put away with relative ease, and we have lots of momentum going into the tourney.

    Louisville just beat Syracuse last night as well.

  10. UNLV will crush Utah.

  11. I think the Injury to Foster puts UNLV over the top. Without that HUGE guy altering shots we should have our way with the Utes

  12. Constructive criticism always ok. But "RebelsRTerrible," you are a babbling fool, and it would be appreciated if you stop using the term "us" when referring to the Rebels. There is no way you are, or ever have been, a Rebel fan, one of "us." Go ahead with your lame takes, but don't masquerade as a Rebel fan.

  13. I hope Lunardi is right on the money but I just do not trust the committee if the Rebs leave them an opening. Especially if the Rebs lose to Utah and SDSU gets to the finals or wins. I just think that could be a little precarious. But beat the crap out of Utah and it is all academic.

  14. The Utes still have some height even with Foster out. Tre needs to make sure the guys are ready for this one.

  15. The Rebs will be motivated and they will beat the utes by 10. This is a revenge game & Tre will have the fellas ready to ball Rebel style.

  16. I just got back from the future. Rebs win by 5.

  17. Our first loss against Utah was probably the worst game we played all year.. and we headed into the second game after losing Matt Shaw (one of the emotional team leaders) to an injury in pre-game.

    I think our players know they are better than the Utes players, and without Lurch in the middle for Utah I think we'll treat them just like we did the other inferior competition we played in February and March.

    The only problem I see is the Rebels inability to play above the level of their competition when they have a lead. It's a hard thing for any team on any level to do, but we've seemingly lacked that killer instinct in every game except BYU at home. We've still managed to win most of our games but I hope we don't blow a lead in either the MWC or NCAA tournies because we're tentative to put the other team away.

  18. I just got a pretty scary stat for 6 seeds in the MWC tournament that hopefully doesn't come true.

    In 2009, No. 6 Wyoming beat No. 3 New Mexico. In 2008, No. 6 Utah defeated No. 3 New Mexico. In 2007, No. 6 Colorado State knocked off No. 3 San Diego State. In 2006, No. 6 Utah edged No. 3 BYU. In 2005, No. 6 SDSU downed No. 3 Air Force.

    That has been the past five years in a row, hopefully the rebels will be the first to break that trend.

  19. Encino,
    Those results are alarming until you consider the fact that the MWC has never really been this deep as far as teams at the top. The fact that most experts have our number 3 and 4 seeds "IN" the tournament right now proves that. It's obvious that UNM, BYU, UNLV, and SDSU are a cut above the rest of the conference.

  20. Go UNLV!!!

    - Mark Szczygiel