UNLV-Wyoming: Rebels Lasso Cowboys 74-56
The UNLV Runnin' Rebels ended their regular season with their fourth straight victory and perhaps a bid to the NCAA Tournament. By finishing on a high note the Rebels clinched third place in this week's Mountain West Conference Tournament and an opportunity to revenge two previous losses this year to the Utah Runnin 'Utes.
I would imagine of all the teams the Rebels didn't want to face in this tournament the Utes would top the list. They clearly are the toughest team in the conference as far as a matchup for UNLV. The Utes have a definite height advantage and in the two losses to them this year the Rebels were easily out-rebounded and were punished inside the lane.
In order for the Rebels to prevail and move on to the semifinals against probable opponent BYU, UNLV must find a way to solve this years dilemma. Last year it was San Diego State who had the Rebels number defeating them three times including in the first round of the Mountain West Conference Tournament eliminating any chance for the Rebels to be considered for an NCAA bid.
The same scenario is possible again this year if UNLV can't get past Utah in the first round. I believe the key to winning this game will be the ability of UNLV to knock down threes. Therefore a hot hand is needed for Kendall Wallace, Oscar Bellfield, and Tre'Von Willis. Chase Stanback and a healthy Matt Shaw are also very capable shooters from behind the arc and will be needed to have a strong effort against the Utes.
In yesterday's win against the Cowboys, the Rebels shot 7-24 which is just under 30 percent. That effort may not get the job done against the Utes. In their previous game the Rebels connected on 13 threes against TCU in a 30-point win.
The one-two punch of Tre'Von Willis and Chase Stanback led the way against Wyoming. Willis had a team high 20 points with eight rebounds and five assists in an overall outstanding performance. Willis is a candidate for Player of the Year in the Mountain West Conference this year and very well may have the opportunity to get there with continued impressive games in the tournament.
Stanback, the UCLA transfer, has certainly come into his own this year averaging over 10 points per game with excellent rebounding skills and the ability to knock down the occasional three. Against Wyoming he had 13 points along with nine boards and nailed three three-pointers along the way.
The Mountain West Conference Tournament kicks off Wednesday with Wyoming taking on Air Force for the eighth seed. Thursday in the quarterfinals, the most intriguing match is the four-five game which pits this year's most improved team, the Colorado State Rams against NCAA Tournament hopeful San Diego State. A loss here by the Aztecs will undoubtedly eliminate their chances for an NCAA bid.
The Aztecs will probably have to win the tournament to make this year's dance. The most likely scenario will involve them playing top-ranked New Mexico, who they split with this year, and then facing the winner of the UNLV-BYU game, once again if the Rebels can get by Utah.
This has the makings of a great conference tournament. Having to play in Las Vegas on their home court at the Thomas and Mack Center should certainly help UNLV but more important for them will be unlocking the keys to defeat Utah.
Prediction: Trying to be as objective as I can be this is really a very tough call. The so called experts have New Mexico and BYU the favorites to meet in the final and it certainly would not surprise anyone if that happens. If it does and I don't believe it will, I see New Mexico walking away with the crown.
I believe the UNLV Runnin' Rebels have peaked at just the right time. They will get their revenge against Utah, beat BYU as they always do on this court, and outlast the Lobos for the title.
In my scenario the Rebels will earn a five seed in the tournament along with BYU, and New Mexico, despite its defeat, should get a three or a four because of their overall body of work. All three Mountain West Conference invitees will have a legitimate shot to make it to the Sweet Sixteen. If they achieve that anything can happen from there.
Should be fun. Go Rebels.
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