March 8, 2005
LARAMIE, Wyo. -
The Wyoming Cowboys and UNLV Runnin' Rebels enter Thursday's first round of the 2005 Mountain West Conference Tournament with identical 15-12 overall records and identical 7-7 conference marks. While UNLV swept the regular-season series against the Cowboys, the closeness of the season series was evidenced by the meeting in Laramie. UNLV won that game by only two points, 68-66, on a last second shot by Odartey Blankson. With that history, Thursday's meeting should be one of the best match-ups in first round action from the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colo.
Both the Cowboys and Runnin' Rebels have four seniors that are key contributors to their respective squads. Because of that senior factor, the level of play in Saturday's game should be even more intense. Also added to Thursday's match-up is the fact that both teams are not only dreaming of making a possible run to the MWC Championship and an automatic NCAA Tournament berth, but both teams are in a battle for a possible National Invitation Tournament bid.
Two of the Mountain West's leading players - Wyoming's Jay Straight and UNLV's Odartey Blankson - will lead their teams into Thursday's action. Straight and Blankson were two of five individuals named First Team All-Mountain West Conference on Monday. They joined Utah's Andrew Bogut and Marc Jackson and New Mexico's Danny Granger on the First Team. Wyoming's Justin Williams was named Third Team All-MWC, and was also selected the conference's Defensive Player of the Year. Williams, who sprained his right wrist in the regular-season finale at Air Force, is expected to play on Thursday. The only player who is not expected to play for the Cowboys is sophomore guard Steve Leven, who suffered a high ankle sprain at Colorado State on Feb. 26. Leven didn't play in the Air Force game last Saturday.
UNLV leads the overall series 17-12. The two teams have met only one previous time in the MWC Tournament. That meeting came in the 2000 conference tournament in Las Vegas. In one of the most exciting games in the history of the MWC Tournament, UNLV won 97-92 in the semifinal game.
Thursday's game will be televised by ESPN+Plus. The game will also be broadcast by the Cowboy Sports Radio Network. The radio broadcast will begin at 2 p.m., Mountain Time -- one half hour before tap time of 2:30 p.m.