Not that he needed to prove anything, but just in case there still were any doubters regarding Luke Nevill being the best player in the Mountain West Conference, the 7-foot-2-inch senior center from Utah showed Friday why he was named Player of the Year.
Nevill had 23 points, 15 rebounds, four blocks and three assists in the Mountain West tournament semifinals, leading the second-seeded Utes past sixth-seeded Wyoming 68-55 and into today’s 4 p.m. championship game against San Diego State at the Thomas & Mack Center.
"Luke impacts the game way out of the stat sheet," Utah coach Jim Boylen said. "The 23 and 15 are awesome. But he does so many things that don’t appear on the stat sheet. He’s just a dominant player, and he’s tough."
Unlike Thursday’s quarterfinal game against Texas Christian, in which he managed just one field goal, Nevill started fast against Wyoming (19-13), accounting for 10 of the first 13 points by Utah (23-9).
And when the Cowboys made a run in the second half after trailing 46-33 to cut Utah’s lead to 48-43, Nevill took over with five straight points to put the Utes back up by double digits.
The Cowboys tried everything. They fronted Nevill in the post. The got weak-side help on him. They went zone and collapsed on him whenever he touched the ball.
"That was the first option from the get-go," Nevill said. "When the ball goes into me in a one-on-one situation, I’m going to score.
"When they took that away from me, my teammates did a good job of scoring. It was a great team effort."
Wyoming was hoping its star, guard Brandon Ewing, would be able to carry the Cowboys as Nevill did Utah. Ewing tried, but the Utes, led by guards Lawrence Borha and Tyler Kepkay, bottled him up.
When Ewing picked up his second foul 8:24 into the game, Wyoming coach Heath Schroyer elected to leave his star on the floor rather than sit him.
The ploy worked, as Ewing avoided a third personal and helped get the Cowboys back in the game after Utah had built a 19-6 lead. At halftime, the Utes, despite dominating, led only 35-29 as Ewing had nine points.
But Ewing, who had averaged 18.6 points per game this season, was unable to make the most of his minutes in the second half. He finished with 13 points on 5-for-12 shooting.
Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@ reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913.UTAH – 68
WYOMING – 55
KEY: Luke Nevill had 23 points, 15 rebounds and four blocks for the Utes.
NEXT: MWC tournament championship, Utah vs. San Diego State, 4 p.m. today, Thomas & Mack Center, Versus (67), KWWN-AM (1100)