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Wyoming comeback falls short in quarterfinal loss to UNLV

Mar 14, 2014 - The Associated Press

A furious comeback fell a few points short.

The Wyoming Cowboys looked dead in the water late on Thursday afternoon, leaking on the interior and trailing UNLV 65-55 with only 1 minute, 6 seconds remaining. The Wyoming crowd, jammed into a corner of the Thomas and Mack Center, had been boisterous all game but now had little to cheer about. The Cowboys were battered, four of its players worn from playing at least 37 minutes.

Then, the funniest thing happened. Wyoming didn't die.

Nathan Sobey hammered home an alley oop, Derek Cooke Jr. tipped in a rebound and Sobey lined up a baseline 3-pointer. After a single UNLV free throw, Jerron Granberry rumbled down the lane and threw in a driving layup, then hit a free throw to cut the deficit to 66-65 with 23 seconds left.

Wyoming would come no closer, as UNLV sank four consecutive free throws and eventually crawled out of its home arena with a 71-67 victory.

But boy, did those Cowboys fight.

"We had some obstacles that we could have tripped on, or we could have made excuses," Wyoming coach Larry Shyatt said. "That's just not the character of this group."

When the game started, Josh Adams lost his mind. Wyoming's sophomore guard knocked down contested 3s, peeking around draped defenders to watch the ball drop softly home. He grabbed rebounds and took off, beating an entire team back on defense.

He dunked over and around UNLV junior forward Khem Birch, the conference's back-to-back defensive player of the year, contorting his body in mid air before finishing with an emphatic two-handed flush.

Adams compiled 18 points, six rebounds, three 3-pointers and two blocks -- all in the first half. He drove the brown and gold cheering section into a veritable frenzy, and a "W-Y-O" chant rained down from arena seats painted Rebel red.

For a while, Adams was trending on Twitter. He finished with 24 points, his fourth consecutive game with at least 20.

"It's not really my mindset to go out and score every single game, but shots were falling and guys were giving me the ball," Adams said.

As if tagging into a wrestling match, Granberry grabbed the baton from Adams and ran with it in the second half, scoring all 18 of his points in the final 20 minutes. The senior guard, who has seemed hesitant to shoot at times this season, hit three 3-pointers in the half and skipped around a defender to score on a fast break.

Coming out of the break, UNLV had to decide whether to guard Adams or everybody else. Rebels coach Dave Rice chose the former.

"After the half [Adams] had in the first half, they had to do something," Granberry said. "They really focused four guys on him, which left us wide open to shoot shots. And thank God, make them."

The Rebels equalizer was found in the paint, as forward Roscoe Smith pounded away for 18 points and five rebounds. Guard Bryce Dejean-Jones led the team with 22 points, knocking in three crucial 3-pointers that turned the tide.

Midway through the second half, UNLV ripped off a 12-2 run. Wyoming's defense continued to fight, but eventually the dam broke.

"We played them the best that we could, and that's why the game went to the wire," Granberry said.

Thursday's game was a loss, but it was also a representation of Wyoming's season. The Cowboys were undervalued, they proved a few people wrong. They were left for dead, only to postpone the funeral.

In the end, Wyoming didn't have enough guns to finish the job. But there was still plenty to be proud of.

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