UNLV ended the suspense early and wrapped up the No. 3 seed in the Mountain West tournament with a 74-56 win over Wyoming in the regular-season finale for both teams at the Thomas & Mack Center.
The Rebels will take on their 2010 nemesis, Utah, in the first round on Thursday night. The game will begin at 8:30 p.m.
Tre’Von Willis was Saturday’s star. The junior guard had 20 points, eight rebounds and five assists in a game that was decided relatively early.
UNLV led by 21 points at the half and by as many as 27 in the second half.
“We opened up pretty sharp both defensively and offensively,” head coach Lon Kruger said. “We opened the game pretty much the way we wanted to on both ends of the floor.”
Chace Stanback, the only other Rebel in double figures, added 13 points and nine rebounds.
“I feel like we’re playing really well right now,” he said of where the team stands entering the postseason.
UNLV out-rebounded Wyoming 39-32 and scored 24 points off of 19 turnovers.
Oscar Bellfield had eight assists and seven points for the Rebels.
Desmar Jackson had 21 points and five steals for Wyoming. Djibril Thiam added 13 points and 13 rebounds for the Cowboys, who were just 3-for-19 from 3-point range and 11 of 22 at the foul line.
It’s cold in here
Senior Steve “Chop” Jones was sporting a newly-shaven head instead of the mini afro he was rocking all season.
He laughed when asked about whether he felt lighter on the court.
There was another problem.
“I felt colder without the hair,” he said. “I had to put a towel up there when I got to the bench.”
Jones had a big smile on his face after hitting a baseline jumper in the closing minutes to record two points in his final regular season game, but he was also lamenting the two shots that didn’t fall.
“I was real happy to score on Senior Day. It felt great and its something I will tell my kids about one day,” he said. “But I should have made that other shot on the baseline. I should have made both of those shots I missed for that matter, but that’s alright.”
Limping to the finish line
UNLV mostly played a great game and did what it was supposed to against an inferior opponent for about 36 minutes.
The last four minutes of the blowout were no work of art, however.
The Rebels built a 27-point lead, but were outscored 11-2 over the last 4:08 of the game.
It was very similar to the way the TCU game concluded.
They were never really in danger and had several guys in the game from the end of the bench, but you don’t want to see the team lose focus in stretches like that.
Also, let’s be honest. It was the fourth straight blowout victory, so there comes a tendency to start searching for flaws.
Bring on the Utes
Utah was the only team to sweep UNLV during the regular season, so wouldn’t you know it, the Utes are the Rebels first-round opponent in the conference tournament.
UNLV will meet Utah in the fourth quarterfinal of the day on Thursday, tipping off around 8:30 p.m. at the Thomas & Mack Center.
Those associated with the Rebels sound excited at the prospect of getting a third chance at Utah.
“Anytime you get beat by a club once, and especially twice, it’s someone you look forward to getting another shot at,” head coach Lon Kruger said.
Tre’Von Willis echoed the sentiment.
“Me personally, I’m very prideful,” the junior guard said. “I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m looking forward to Thursday.
He actually had to answer the question three different times from three different members of the media.
The other answers were pretty similar.
“As a player, I wouldn’t have it any other way. We’re definitely ready for this third opportunity against Utah to try to get a win against them,” he said the second time.
He had to answer the question yet again.
“They beat us twice and we were kind of embarrassed about that,” he said. “Now we get to show them what we’re about.”
The task won’t be as tall as one might think, literally and figuratively.
The Utes will likely be without 7-foot-3 center David Foster, who has given the UNLV offense all kinds of fits this season.
He sprained his ankle last week and Utah has not looked good since he went down with a badly sprained ankle.
Chet Buchanan, a local morning radio personality from 98.5 KLUC-FM, does a great job of handling the in-game promotions in the arena, but there was a moment in the second half he’d sure like to have back.
He gave longtime public address announcer Dick Calvert an over-the-top introduction in announcing Calvert’s selection to the Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame.
Buchanan highlighted Calvert’s career accomplishments and then went into the dramatic intro.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, a 2010 selection into the Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame, please let him hear you. Give it up, for Mr. Dick Barnett.”
Buchanan came out for the next media timeout and looked truly embarrassed as he apologized for his error.
Dick Barnett, whoever he is, was just shocked that he will be enshrined.
Breaking down the tournament
New Mexico won the regular-season title outright and will play either Air Force or Wyoming in the first quarterfinal game at noon on Thursday.
The Falcons and Cowboys will play in an opening round game on Tuesday night.
The second quarterfinal will be No. 4 San Diego State taking on fifth-seeded Colorado State.
The night session will open with No. 2 BYU playing Texas Christian. The two teams met on Saturday with TCU taking control early, but the Cougars putting up a big rally late in the first half. BYU currently leads the high scoring affair 57-43 at the half.
UNLV will play Utah in the last quarterfinal of the day on Thursday night.
March is notorious for upsets, but if the top four seeds can advance through the quarterfinal round, the Mountain West Conference tournament will be set up for some incredible action on Friday and Saturday.
A semifinal session of New Mexico-San Diego State, followed by UNLV-BYU would have the Thomas & Mack rocking.