Wyoming Cowboys Upset No. 11/13 UNLV Runnin’ Rebels, 68-66
Four Cowboys scored in double figures and the University of Wyoming men’s basketball team held on in the final minute for a signature 68-66 win over No. 11/13 UNLV in front of more than 7,170 fans in the Arena-Auditorium on Saturday afternoon. UW claimed its first win over a ranked foe since 2000 with another stout defensive effort and a balanced scoring attack to lead the Rebels the majority of the contest.
“There can’t be a coach anywhere that is prouder of how their team has played this season than I am of this group of guys,” UW head coach Larry Shyatt said. “They executed all the keys that we talked about leading up to this game, and they played with such great energy tonight.”
Senior guard JayDee Luster nailed a deep three with 5:43 left to swing momentum UW’s way with an eight-point lead, but the Pokes would score just one more point down the stretch to let the Rebels back into the game. UNLV cut the lead to two with 52 seconds left and the Cowboys came up empty on the ensuing offensive possession to give the Rebels a chance to tie or win the game with25 seconds to go. UNLV had three shots, including a three, but couldn’t connect on any of them.
“When they had the ball with 30 seconds left, I felt pretty good that we could get a stop,” Shyatt said. “They are a very good offensive team with a lot of weapons, but what doesn’t get talked about a lot is we have some pretty good defenders and we were able to dig deep and hold on to the end.”
Redshirt junior forward Leonard Washington and senior guard Francisco Cruz led Wyoming with 16 points apiece, while redshirt junior guard Luke Martinez added 15 and senior center Adam Waddell had 14 for the fourth time this season four Cowboys reached double figures. Martinez hit five timely threes, Washington grabbed seven rebounds and Cruz had five assists. The foursome guided UW to its first win over a ranked opponent since defeating No. 24 Utah, 88-61, on Feb. 28, 2000.
UW (18-5, 4-3) shot 45 percent (22-of-48) from the field and 31 percent (7-of-22) beyond the arc, but more importantly played great defense on the Rebels. UNLV (21-4, 5-2) entered the game averaging 80.6 points per game (eighth in the country) and 8.7 threes per game (11th in the country), but shot 49 percent (25-of-51) from the field, including a season-low 21 percent (3-of-14) from deep, for their third lowest output of the season.
“The keys to this game were to limit their (UNLV’s) transition threes, keep them off the offensive boards and make them guard longer than they wanted to,” Shyatt said. “I thought for the most part, our guys did an excellent job of that.”
The first half was back and forth with five ties and seven lead changes. Martinez opened the scoring for UW with a three and Washington followed with two free throws for a quick three-point advantage. The squads exchanged the lead over the next three minutes, before a Cruz trey started a 12-2 spurt to push the Cowboys in front 21-13 midway through the half.
Layups from Washington and Cruz kept the Pokes in front, but the Rebels made a run and tied the contest four times in the final five minutes, including taking a 36-35 lead with 2:05 to go. Martinez hit a trey to spark a 7-0 closing run for UW to give them a 42-36 lead at halftime. Waddell made two free throws with 40 seconds left and brought the crowd to its feet with a layup with four seconds left. Wyoming improved to 13-0 this season when leading at halftime.
Martinez had 12 points in the first half, while Washington, Waddell and Cruz all added 10 apiece. Wyoming shot 54 percent (13-of-24) from the field in the first half and 41 percent (5-of-12) from deep, but the Rebels connected on a blistering 63 percent (14-of-22) from the field, including two treys. UNLV had an 11-10 rebounding advantage.
The Pokes carried the momentum into the second half, as well. The lead wavered between six and three points for the first eight minutes, thanks to a dunk from Waddell and layups from Washington and freshman forward Larry Nance Jr. UNLV took its first lead of the second half at 53-52 with 10:46 to go, but UW tied it up at 55-55 and crafted a 7-0 run over the next three minutes to go in front. Martinez hit a three in the run and Washington added back-to-back buckets.
UNLV showed it wouldn’t go without a fight, though, as the Rebels pulled within five at the 6:01 mark. Luster hit a deep three on the next play to push it back to eight, 67-59, and swing the momentum back to Wyoming. UNLV made a jumper of their own to be down six, 67-61, with 5:26 left, before both defenses cranked down on the defensive end.
Luster made a free throw to keep the Pokes in front 68-64 with 1:08 to go, but UNLV got an easy dunk on the ensuing possession. Wyoming missed a three with 25 seconds left and the Rebels had three shot attempts down the stretch to tie and win the game, but couldn’t connect on any of them.
Wyoming continues its season at New Mexico on Saturday, Feb. 11 at 1:30 p.m.