Mountain West crown on line as UNLV faces BYU
Las Vegas, NV (Sports Network) - A rematch of the very first Mountain West Conference Tournament title game is on tap tonight at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, as the 25th-ranked UNLV Runnin' Rebels host the 23rd-ranked BYU Cougars for the automatic bid to this year's NCAA Tournament.
In that very first tourney championship matchup, it was the Rebels who crushed BYU in a 79-56 decision, marking the first and only crown for the Rebels thus far. Although, now in its eighth year, the MWC Tourney has seen UNLV in the final game five times. The second seed has earned a spot in the final game this time around after crushing seventh-seeded Utah in the quarterfinals (80-56) and then posting an 88-72 triumph last night in the semis versus Colorado State. With last night's victory, the Rebels are now a sizzling 18-1 on this floor in 2006-07.
As for the top-seeded Cougars, who won their first and only MWC tourney in 2001 over New Mexico, they first pushed past TCU (77-64) and then held on to defeat the Wyoming Cowboys in the semifinals last night, 96-84. The teams split their two regular season meetings this year, with each of winning on their own floor. Here in the Thomas & Mack Center, the Rebels recorded an 83-75 triumph during the second week of January, while BYU posted a 90-63 blowout victory at the Marriott Center three weeks later.
As far as the all-time series is concerned, the win in Provo for the Cougars pushed them ahead of the Runnin' Rebels with a 12-11 mark.
UNLV trailed by a basket early on in the first half Friday night versus the Rams, but the hometown team then knocked down a sizzling 62.5 percent from the field, including an incredible 9-of-12 behind the three-point line in taking a 41-31 lead at the break. The edge grew to as much as 23 points in the second before the Rebels settled for the 16-point difference. Kevin Kruger led the way once again for the group with his 21 points and nine assists, shooting not only 7-of-10 from the floor but 5-of-7 out on the perimeter. Wink Adams checked in with 18 points and Michael Umeh 15 and five dishes as they both converted a trio of three-point tries as well. Kruger, the leading scorer for the Rebels in each of the last five games, is now up to 13.7 ppg this season and has a team- best 139 assists, even though he's missed a total of six games. Wendell White, who contributed just five points last night, continues to hold on to the top spot on the scoring chart for the Rebels with his 14.4 ppg, but Adams (14.2 ppg) is closing the gap. Listed as a guard, White leads the program with about six and a half rebounds per game these days, even though he registered a mere two boards in the win over Colorado State.
Matching his career high with 27 points on Friday night, Trent Plaisted shot 10-of-13 from the field for the Cougars as they held on to defeat the Wyoming Cowboys by a dozen in the desert. Plaisted, who shot just 7-of-16 at the charity stripe, added 10 rebounds as he joined Keena Young as the other double- double performer for the Cougars. Young, who was recently named the MWC Player of the Year, had yet another subpar effort as he shot a woeful 3-of-13 from the field, en route to 12 points and 10 rebounds, and yet the team still made it look rather easy. Lee Cummard accounted for 21 points and seven boards, while Austin Ainge checked in with 16 points on a perfect 3-of-3 effort beyond the arc. The team made a hit 9-of-14 behind the three-point line, which somewhat made up for a less-than-stellar 29-of-45 performance at the free-throw line. At one point in the first half BYU led by a score of 38-13, but allowed the Pokes to nudge their way back into contention in the second half nonetheless. Young, who has combined for just 20 points the last two games, shooting 7-of-26 from the floor, is still first on the unit with his 16.6 ppg and 6.4 rpg, but Plaisted is closing the gap in both departments with his 12.9 ppg and 6.3 rpg. Plaisted has boosted his field goal shooting to 55.7 percent, but his free- throw accuracy has fallen to 49.7 percent, which means a close game down the stretch tonight might find him on the bench in order to save him some grief at the stripe.BYU UNLV