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Wyoming clamps down on MWC title, tourney invite

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LAS VEGAS – – It wasn’t pretty, but that’s just the way the Wyoming Cowboys liked it.

The fourth-seeded Cowboys (25-9), who rank ninth nationally in scoring defense (56.4) and frequently run the clock down before attempting a shot, made the key shots and got the defensive stops they needed down the stretch to grind out a 45-43 victory over No. 2 seed San Diego State (26-8) and win the first Mountain West tournament title in school history on Saturday afternoon at the Thomas & Mack Center.

The victory also garnered an automatic NCAA Tournament bid for Wyoming, the schools’ first since 2002.

“Well, these guys know I like the 43 part, although I guess some of the pundits nationally feel like the game’s got to change,” Wyoming coach Larry Shyatt said. “I love the way these guys play.”

Junior guard Josh Adams, named the tournament’s MVP, scored 10 points, including a key 3-pointer with a minute to go that gave the Cowboys the lead for good. Senior forward Larry Nance Jr. finished with 14 points, six rebounds and two blocks to lead Wyoming to its first conference tournament title since 1988 when the Cowboys defeated UTEP in the WAC tournament title game.

“Relentless,” Adams replied when asked to assess his team’s play in the tournament. “We’ve been relentless all year. We’ve been in dogfights all year. This is the style we play.

“I know a lot of the critiques about us, we’re grinding it, we’re going to lose energy. We had bounce in our step and were able to grind it out all the way to the end of the game, and now we’re going dancing.”

Freshman forward Malik Pope led No. 2 seed San Diego State (26-8) with 13 points and senior forward JJ O’Brien added 12 points and five rebounds.

San Diego State, which trailed by as many as 12 points in the first half, battled back to take a 41-40 lead after O’Brien sank both ends of a one-and-one with 1:36 remaining. Wyoming then ran the clock down and Adams sank a 3-pointer from the left corner to give the Cowboys the lead for good.

“Clock was winding down as it was the entire game,” Adams said. “San Diego State is an insanely good defensive team. They were front-guarding me. I spaced to the corner. (Charles) Hankerson made a great pass and it went in. I’m blessed the ball just went in.”

The Aztecs had two chances to tie or regain the lead after that but O’Brien missed on a contested drive to the basket and guard Akeel Quinn later missed a 3-pointer from the top of the key with nine seconds left. Senior forward Derek Cooke grabbed the rebound and was fouled by Quinn with seven seconds to go.

Cooke, a 52.5 percent free-throw shooter, then sealed the victory by sinking both ends of a pressure-packed one-and-one. Quinn then missed a 3-pointer and Pope put in a rebound basket with four-tenths of a second remaining for the game’s final score.

“We had opportunities,” San Diego State coach Steve Fisher, whose team came up short in the Mountain West championship game for the third time in four years, said. “We didn’t take advantage of enough of them. Some of it was us, some of it was Wyoming.”

Wyoming, which had lost eight of the 10 previous meetings with the Aztecs dating to 2010, bolted to a 17-5 lead in the first eight minutes behind Nance, who scored 10 points, including a pair of long 3-pointers from the top of the key. Meanwhile, San Diego State made just one of its first 10 shots.

“We started the game not guarding the way you have to guard,” Fisher said. “To Wyoming’s credit, they made shots. But they were open shots. They were too good of looks that we allowed to happen.”

The Aztecs clamped down defensively after that, holding the Cowboys to just two field goals in the final nine minutes. San Diego State ended the half with a 6-0 run that featured 3-pointers by Pope and guard Matt Shrigley to trail 28-25.

“We’ll see what happens (Sunday),” Fisher said when asked his outlook for Mountain West teams getting invited to the NCAA Tournament. “This is a very, very competitive league, and it was shown in

Interested betting on the Wyoming team? – Don’t miss out on reading our guide about sports betting in Wyoming first!

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