March 10, 2005
By JOHN MARSHALL
AP Sports Writer
DENVER - Michael Umeh scored 20 of his 21 points in the first half andRicky Morgan hit 14 straight free throws in the final five minutes, liftingNevada-Las Vegas to a 70-63 victory over Wyoming Thursday in the first round ofthe Mountain West Conference tournament.
UNLV (16-12), the tournament's fourth seed, struggled offensively but madeup for it with a swarming defense to beat Wyoming for the third straight time.
The Rebels have reached the championship game each of the four times they'veplayed in the tournament - the NCAA ruled them ineligible in 2001 - but mighthave a tougher time doing it this year.
Waiting for UNLV in Friday's semifinals is Utah, which beat the Rebels inlast year's title game and twice during the regular season. The 15th-rankedUtes beat Colorado State 62-49 in an earlier quarterfinal and present matchupproblems inside with 7-foot center Andrew Bogut.
Wyoming (15-13) didn't stand much of a chance with its best playerstruggling.
Leading scorer Jay Straight finished with 14 points - nearly five below his average - on5-of-18 shooting. He also had five turnovers and missed a pair of free throws withthe Cowboys trailing by nine with just over five minutes left.
UNLV had something to do with it.
The Rebels collapsed in the lane to preventStraight from getting to the basket or to medium-range jumpers, and were quickto get out on his 3-point shots.
Then again, UNLV was just as good against the rest of the Cowboys, holdingthem to 32 percent shooting and forcing 15 turnovers. Dion Sherrell led Wyomingwith 18 points, but missed all four of his first-half shots and was 5-for-16overall.
UNLV went on a 13-4 run to take a 43-34 lead early in the second half,allowed Wyoming to get within four, then kept the Cowboys at bay with Morgan'sfree throw shooting. The junior guard finished 18-of-19 from the line and had22 points.
Umeh put Morgan and the Rebels in position.
The lone bright spot in a ragged first half, he scored UNLV's first 12points - all on 3-pointers - and more than doubled his 9.2 average by halftime.But it wasn't too much of a surprise. Umeh started to find his stroke at theend of the regular season, scoring at least 14 points in five of the last sixgames.
Umeh finished 8-for-11 in the first half, while the rest of the Rebels werea combined 4-for-20.