Xavier DuSell drilled a 3-pointer with 30 seconds left to give the Wyoming Cowboys a 57-56 lead, which was then followed by a defensive stop and a pair of Brendan Wenzel free throws with three seconds to go as the Cowboys escaped with a 59-56 Mountain West Tournament quarterfinal victory over UNLV Thursday afternoon.
The Cowboys scored the game’s final seven points to claim victory. It marked the first time UW has won in the Thomas & Mack Center against UNLV since 2003.
“I mean, we wouldn’t expect anything different,” head coach Jeff Linder said. “That’s the way the season’s gone for us. I mean, we’ve been in more close games than probably any team in the country. And that’s how this conference has been from top to bottom.”
UNLV opened the scoring on their first possession, but the Pokes answered with a 5-0 run over three plus minutes for a 5-2 game four minutes into the contest. The Runnin’ Rebels hit a pair of free throws to make it a one-point game, but Maldonado added a pair of buckets and slam from Jeremiah Oden to make it a 11-4 game with 13:58 left in the first half.
The Pokes held UNLV without a field goal nearly 12-minute to take a 18-6 lead with under eight minutes left in the first frame. Wenzel spearheaded the Cowboy run with five points coming on free throws and a triple.
“I thought our guys tonight, you know, as much as sometimes people want to talk about us offensively, me offensively, we know at the end of the day it’s our defense that gives us a chance to win a championship,” Linder said. “And I thought our guys did a really good job of understanding the game plan.”
UNLV would battle back and make it a nine-point contest at 22-13 near the five-minute mark of the half and a three-pointer from Royce Hamm made it a 22-16 game at the 3:27 mark. But Drake Jeffries responded with a triple to push it back to a nine-point lead and Noah Reynolds made it a 27-16 game with under two minutes left in the half.
The Runnin’ Rebels would threaten the lead, but Reynolds would help lead the Pokes to a 31-22 lead at the half. Wyoming shot 41 percent from the field and held UNLV to 29.6 percent.
UNLV would make it a five-point game at 31-26 in the opening ninety seconds of the first half. Maldonado pushed the lead to seven at 33-26, but Bryce Hamilton added an and-oine play for a 33-29 game with 16:47 remaining in the contest.
The Cowboys would go on a 5-0 run to push the lead back to nine points 38-29 with under 15 minutes remaining. But Hamilton added another and-one play for a four-point game at 38-34 at the 13:21 mark. Donovan Williams added a triple seconds later for a one-point contest.
Williams gave the Runnin’ Rebels the lead with a pair of free throws for a 39-38 game. But Ike added a bucket for a 40-39 game with just a few ticks under 11 minutes left in the game. After Ike made it a three-point game, The Runnin’ Rebels went on a 6-0 run for a 45-42 lead with 8:37 left in the game.
The Pokes would battle back and tie the game at 49-49 on a Brendan Wenzel three ball with 5:22 left in the game. Jeffries hit a three as well and gave Wyoming a 52-51 lead with just under five minutes left. A free throw by UNLV made it a tie game with 3:50 remaining.
Williams would hit back-back buckets to give UNLV a 56-52 lead with 2:11 remaining. DuSell made it a two-point game with free throws with 1:47 remaining, which began UW’s late run.
UNLV was led by a pair of Runnin’ Rebels that scored 20 or more as Bryce Hamilton scored a game-high 22 while Donovan Williams had 20. For the game, UNLV shot 35-percent from the floor and went 3-of-21 from 3-point range. The Cowboys shot 36.5-percent for the game and went 6-for-21 from beyond-the-arc.
A trio of Cowboys led the way in double figures as Wenzel paced UW with 12 points and tied a career-high with seven rebounds. Maldonado and Ike had 11 points each, while Ike recorded his 14th double-double of the season as he pulled down a game-high 13 boards. Maldonado added a game-best five assists in the win and surpassed Sean Dent for the most career assists in program history with 503. DuSell and Jeffries chipped in with eight points each.
Wyoming (25-7) moves on to face regular season champion Boise State in the tournament semifinals in a 7:30 p.m., MT tip-off on the CBS Sports Network.