LARAMIE, Wyo. — College life could be more exciting for Wyoming junior guard Brandon Ewing, who is more likely to cross paths with wild animals on campus than he is a wild time.
Ewing grew up in Chicago, a long way from Laramie, where barns are the only skyscrapers and a traffic jam might be three tractors at a grain elevator.
“It’s real small here, and the lifestyle is tough. I’m from the inner city,” Ewing said. “Around here, everything closes early. At about 8 or 9 o’clock, people are getting ready for the next day.”
Ewing said he passes time by watching college basketball on TV, so he is well aware of what’s on the line when UNLV plays Wyoming at 1:30 p.m. today at the Arena-Auditorium.
The Rebels, 19-6 overall and 8-3 in the Mountain West Conference, are sitting on the NCAA Tournament bubble, and they would be wise to avoid losing to the Cowboys (10-15, 3-9).
“My favorite television show is ESPN, so I follow every team,” Ewing said. “I know UNLV needs this win, and we don’t want to be part of the reason UNLV gets in the tournament.”
The idea of a must-win game in the regular season is not something Rebels coach Lon Kruger likes to promote. But he’s not nonchalant about the challenge his team faces.
“We have to play every game like the tournament is in the balance,” Kruger said.
One week after an embarrassing 26-point loss at Brigham Young, UNLV has little margin for error as it returns to the road.
“We’re always a team who takes a loss, learns from it and bounces back with an eight- or nine-game winning streak,” Rebels guard Wink Adams said.
In the BYU debacle, Adams said “we kind of came apart” on both ends of the floor. The defensive effort must be stronger against Ewing, who has made a habit of burning UNLV with his hot shooting.
Ewing, a skinny 6-foot-2-inch guard, is the Mountain West’s No. 2 scorer at 17.0 points per game. He has averaged 28.7 points in his past three games against the Rebels.
He also has the endurance of a marathon runner, leading the conference with 38.9 minutes per game.
“Ewing is one of the best players in this conference. He’s fast and he can shoot it, and he’s been doing a great job running the point,” Adams said. “You never know if he’s going to drive, drive and kick it, or shoot it. You’ve got to guard him tough the whole game.”
The Adams-Ewing showdown could be the key to the game. When the teams met in Las Vegas on Jan. 23, Adams scored a career-high 33 points in the Rebels’ 78-71 victory. Ewing made six 3-pointers and finished with 26 points.
“UNLV takes pride in playing man-to-man defense, and Wink is one of the best defenders in the league,” Ewing said.
“They bring the best out of me. If you don’t come ready to play against a team like UNLV, you’re not a true basketball player.”
Ewing starred at Julian High School in Chicago, and his college options included DePaul, Louisville and Marquette.
He said a persuasive recruiting job by former Wyoming coach Steve McClain lured him away from the temptations of the city.
“Staying home can be a positive, because you’re close to family and friends, but it can have a negative effect,” Ewing said. “There’s no telling what would have happened if I stayed in Chicago.
“I can stay focused here. It’s like I’m a walking celebrity here. Wherever I go, everyone knows me. It definitely keeps me out of trouble.”
The Cowboys were 17-15 last season under McClain, who was fired. But they have been worse with new coach Heath Schroyer.
“I’ve got to stay positive,” said Ewing, refusing to blame the coaching change for the team’s downfall. “I’m a team leader, so everybody is going to look at me to see my reaction.”
• NOTES — Kruger said he expects Rebels senior point guard Curtis Terry to start today. Terry was limited in practice Thursday and Friday because of a groin injury. … Ewing made 19 of 22 free throws and scored 30 points as Wyoming beat UNLV 86-76 in overtime last year in Laramie.
Contact reporter Matt Youmans at firstname.lastname@example.org or (702) 387-2907.GAME DAY
UNLV VS. WYOMING
WHEN: 1:30 p.m. today
WHERE: Arena-Auditorium, Laramie, Wyo.
TV/RADIO: The Mtn. (334); KBAD-AM (920)
LINE: UNLV -6; total 136