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Wyoming hopes for better finishing kick against UNLV

LARAMIE, Wyo. — When Wyoming cut UNLV’s eight-point lead to two with 33 seconds remaining in their first meeting in Las Vegas, the Cowboys put themselves in position for a big comeback victory.

But it was UNLV that made the plays late, holding off the Cowboys to win 81-75.

That’s been a theme for Wyoming, which has struggled to close out basketball games. Even in their most recent game, the Cowboys had their chances Saturday at New Mexico but lost 78-71.

“My comment to our guys (Monday) was I feel like we’re right there, but you can’t continue to be right there,” Cowboys first-year coach Allen Edwards said. “You have to take that next step to get over that hump.”

Maybe that will happen for the Cowboys (13-7, 3-4 Mountain West) when they host UNLV (10-10, 3-4) at 6 p.m. PST Wednesday at Arena-Auditorium. Wyoming is an 8-point favorite in a game that will be streamed at UNLVRebels.com.

UNLV has won its share of close games, coming off an 87-85 double-overtime victory over Air Force on Saturday. The Rebels’ past four victories were by single digits.

One of those was over Wyoming on New Year’s Eve, a game in which the Rebels made their final eight free throws to turn back the Cowboys’ rally.

“After watching our first game against them at their place, you look at your team and see if there’s been any growth from the first time, and I think there has,” Edwards said. “We’re still in that process of getting better, taking care of the basketball. After watching that game, I thought we were really, really sloppy, especially late in the game, but still had an opportunity to win.”

Edwards said his discussion with his players on Monday emphasized three points that have hurt the team down the stretch — limiting turnovers, offensive rebounds and defensive positioning.

Wyoming averages 13.9 turnovers per game, which is last in the Mountain West. The Cowboys are ninth each in offensive rebounding average (9.3) and scoring defense (73.8).

Even with those numbers, they are only one victory shy of matching last season’s win total. Wyoming is second in the conference in scoring offense at a 78.1-point average and first in total rebounds at a 39.8 clip.

Four players average in double figures, including the two leading scorers, and both aren’t even starters. Justin James averages 14.9 points and Hayden Dalton 13.1.

“We’re right there,” Edwards said. “That’s our focus, and with this team, we’re just coming in every day to practice and to get better so that we can take advantage of the opportunity (of breaking through).”

And if the Cowboys get it figured out, Edwards said they will be a team no one wants to face.

“What I’ve always said is we’re going through the process right now, and we’re still learning how to finish basketball games,” Edwards said. “So, in essence to me, I think we’re in a really good position with so many conference games left and obviously the tournament to where when we do turn that corner, I think we can be a dangerous basketball team in this conference.”

Contact Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2914. Follow @markanderson65 on Twitter.

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