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Pokes open MWC play against UNLV

Mar 7, 2012 - The Associated Press

LARAMIE -- The University of Wyoming men's basketball team starts play at the 2012 Conoco Mountain West Basketball Championships on Thursday in Las Vegas with another crack at the Rebels.

The third-seeded Cowboys (20-10, 6-8) square off with sixth-seeded UNLV (25-7, 9-5) after dropping a 74-63 road contest to the Rebels last Saturday. The Pokes are 2-0 in the MW tournament after ending the regular season against the same opponent, including a 75-67 upset of New Mexico in the 2009 three-six matchup.

The six seed is 7-5 all-time against the three seed in MW tournament play, but the Rebels are an impressive 17-0 at home this season and play host to the conference championships for a sixth-straight year. Tip is set for 9:30 p.m. MT in the Thomas & Mack Center.

The contest will be broadcast on the radio by the Cowboy Sports Network and televised on The Mtn. and CBS Sports.

A look at the matchup

The Pokes lost a 74-63 game at No. 17 UNLV last Saturday to end the regular season sixth in the MW at 6-8 in conference play and 20-10 overall. Wyoming was within five points of the Rebels with six minutes to go, but UNLV crafted a 7-0 run and held the Cowboys to eight points down the stretch to take control for the win.

The Rebels improved to 17-0 at home in 2011-12 and became just the third UW opponent to score more than 70 points this season. Wyoming's statistical numbers on the defensive end have slipped a little with the higher competition of the MW, but the Cowboys continue to keep opponents off the scoreboard.

UW has held 29 of its 30 foes below their season scoring average. The Pokes were fifth in scoring defense (54.8 ppg) in the latest NCAA rankings and 22nd in three-point field goal percentage defense (30.2). Both marks rank in the top three of the Mountain West. Offensively,

UW is 26th in the NCAA in free throw percentage (74.9), 26th in turnover margin (+3.1) and 45th in scoring margin (+8.6).

UNLV was ranked 17th in both polls on Feb. 27 prior to going 1-1 last week with a 66-59 loss at Colorado State and a 74-63 home win over Wyoming.

The Pokes stayed within single digits until the final four minutes, before the Rebels made some timely threes to take over the game. The victory pushed UNLV to 17-0 at home this season for their first unblemished mark since 1991-92 and gave them a 19-0 record in the city of Las Vegas in 2011-12. UNLV finished one game behind San Diego State and New Mexico in the final MW standings at 9-5 and 25-7 overall.

Rebel firepower

The Rebels have some offensive firepower and proved it by scoring 74 points on the Pokes, a season high for a UW opponent. UNLV's 77.6 points per game ranked 20th in the last NCAA statistics, while its 18.2 assists were second, 8.5 threes per game were 16th and plus 11.4 scoring margin was 19th. Three of the four marks lead the Mountain West.

Defensively, UNLV paces the league in blocks (4.8) to rank 35th in the nation, steals (8.6) for 21st and assist-turnover ratio (+1.3) for 14th.

Washington

Redshirt junior forward Leonard Washington has been dominant during MW play for Wyoming. With double-doubles in two of the last three games, he currently ranks in the top 10 of six MW statistical categories. His team-high 12.7 points are 10th and 6.8 rebounds are sixth, while he leads the league in field goal percentage (57.4) and blocks (1.1). Senior guard Francisco Cruz has also been playing well, as he paced the Pokes with 16 points and four assists against UNLV last Saturday.

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