For the first 20 minutes, UNLV sophomore forward Mike Moser displayed why he's one of the best players in the Mountain West Conference.
In the next half, the Rebels were often at their worst, showing how they squandered an opportunity to be regular-season champions.
"We cut it close," Moser said. "But we weathered the storm."
No lead is safe with UNLV, which has developed a trend of turning blowouts into nail-biters.
Moser totaled 22 points and 14 rebounds, and the third-seeded Rebels squandered most of a 22-point lead before regrouping to defeat Wyoming 56-48 in the Mountain West tournament quarterfinals Thursday night before 13,772 at the Thomas & Mack Center.
After some high drama unfolded, the bottom line was that UNLV (26-7) advanced to face No. 2 seed New Mexico in today's semifinals at 8:30 p.m.
"We know what a challenge it will be against a very good Lobos team," Rebels coach Dave Rice said.
Top-seeded San Diego State faces fourth-seeded Colorado State in the first semifinal at 6 p.m. The Aztecs advanced in dramatic fashion, too, beating Boise State 65-62 on Jamaal Franklin's 3-pointer at the buzzer.
UNLV did not cut it quite that close, allowing its lead to shrink to six points in the final minute.
"I'm kind of used to that right about now," Moser said of blowing leads. "Are we going to recognize it and put it to a halt?
"But I'm just glad to get a win and move on. It's all about advancing at tournament time."
Moser's 18 points carried UNLV to a 28-11 halftime lead, and Anthony Marshall's drive and dunk made the score 37-15 three minutes into the second half.
But Luke Martinez shot the Cowboys back into it, as his 3-pointer cut their deficit to 45-35 with 8:35 remaining.
Moser scored his first points of the half on a midrange bank shot with 2:52 remaining, putting the Rebels on top 50-39. Martinez responded with a 3 on the Wyoming's next possession.
The Cowboys' comeback continued on a Francisco Cruz 3-pointer that sliced UNLV's lead to 51-45 with 59 seconds to go.
But Oscar Bellfield and Moser each made two free throws to help the Rebels close it out and advance to the semifinals for the third straight year.
"At times this year, something happens to us and we get a big lead and miss some shots," Rice said. "But our guys showed resiliency."
Wyoming coach Larry Shyatt said it was "absolutely incredible" to hold UNLV to 56 points, but it was not totally unexpected. The Cowboys rank fifth in the nation in scoring defense at 55.4 points per game.
The Rebels went more than 10 minutes without a field goal before Marshall's rebound and layup made the score 48-39 with 4:24 to go.
Wyoming shot 2-for-18 from the field to open the game to put itself on the brink of getting blown out.
Moser, a first-team all-conference selection, scored 16 of the Rebels' first 21 points. Senior forward Chace Stanback accounted for the other five.
"Mike played like Mike. He was terrific," Rice said.
Stanback hit the game's first basket, a 3-pointer at the 18:52 mark. It was his first made field goal in three games against the Cowboys this season. Moser's 3-pointer put UNLV up 18-6 with 6:44 remaining.
Stanback finished the half with eight points, and Quintrell Thomas added two as only three Rebels scored.
Martinez and Leonard Washington each finished with 11 points for Wyoming, which shot 12.5 percent (3-for-24) in the first half and 29.3 percent for the game.
Marshall and Stanback scored eight points apiece for the Rebels, who shot 40 percent in each half.
"As a team, we want to prove to ourselves that we're the best in the Mountain West," Marshall said. "March is the best time of the year, so you can't take any days off or any possessions off, because that one possession could knock you out of the tournament."
UNLV and New Mexico split two games in the regular season, with each team winning by double digits at home.
Contact reporter Matt Youmans at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2907.