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Wyoming vs. UNLV game preview: Cowboys host Rebels in winnable conference opener

Wyoming races into Mountain West action after winning its final three nonconference games. UNLV, off a recent upset over third-ranked Arizona, is its first conference test of the season.

Wyoming opens Mountain West play by hosting UNLV on Wednesday.
Wyoming opens Mountain West play by hosting UNLV on Wednesday.
Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Now's the time when the Pokes' games really start to matter.

Wyoming (11-2) enters Mountain West play after winning its final three nonconference games, including a 61-51 victory over Montana State last Tuesday.

Against the Bobcats, Larry Nance Jr. poured in a season-best 31 points in a game that saw Wyoming's defense come through in the end. The Cowboys nursed a two-point lead late, but they held Montana State scoreless in the remaining 2:39.

Wyoming's offense used an 8-0 run to ice the game in the closing minutes.

"We went to a zone with three minutes left and really stymied them," Wyoming coach Larry Shyatt said. "It was really only two stops, but they came at great times."

The Cowboys will need a similar defensive effort against UNLV, the team they host in their conference opener Wednesday in Arena-Auditorium.

The Runnin' Rebels (9-3) are fresh off an upset win over then third-ranked Arizona last week. They used their depth to overcome an eight-point deficit and then thwart an Arizona comeback to pull off what may be their best win of the season. UNLV's Christian Wood and Rashad Vaughn each scored over 20 points, while Wood also pulled down 10 rebounds.

"Everyone stepped up and made big plays," UNLV coach Dave Rice said. "Chris Wood was as good as he's ever been at UNLV. He took it as a challenge. He knows how good Arizona's front line is.

"Rashad Vaughn made big plays down the stretch."

But that doesn't mean the Cowboys should focus their defensive attention on those two starters alone.

"The thing that's been characteristic of our team all season long," Rice said, "is that different guys have stepped up in different games."

That includes UNLV guard Patrick McCaw, who played 31 minutes and scored 13 points off the bench against Arizona.

Wyoming may catch UNLV at a good time, however, as the Rebs are playing one of their toughest stretches in recent history. Before upsetting Arizona, they fell to No. 14 Utah 59-46. They hosted Southern Utah on Saturday. After tomorrow's visit to Laramie, they travel Sunday to 10th-ranked Kansas.

If Wyoming upsets sure-to-be-tired UNLV, it'd be a statement win for the program and a strong conference start. It may even be enough to help the Pokes garner votes in the next AP Top 25 poll.

Historically, Wyoming is 13-32 against UNLV.

WHAT THEY'RE SAYING

Here are the links to the stories leading up to Wyoming's next game:

• College Basketball Nation Blog (ESPN) — Rebels' rise: Rashad Vaughn stars in big win

"(UNLV coach Dave Rice) has lured seven players who cracked the ESPN100 (RecruitingNation) since his arrival in 2011. That talent, however, hasn't resulted in an abundance of postseason success. His squad has reached the Big Dance in two of the last three years. But Rice hasn't won an NCAA tournament game yet."

• Billings GazetteWyoming men will entertain UNLV

"The New Year’s Eve showdown is UW’s earliest start to conference play in the program’s 110 years of play."

UNLVRebels.comUNLV opens MW play New Year's Eve at Wyoming

Not one UNLV player with a scholarship has ever played in Laramie.