Home sweet home
LAS VEGAS, Nev., -- The friendly confines of the ... Thomas & Mack Center?
The home of the Runnin' Rebels hasn't exactly been kind to the Cowboys in year's past, aside from the ones who show up each December for the annual National Finals Rodeo. The other cowpokes, the ones that wear brown-and-gold tank tops and shorts, haven't found UNLV's home arena to be all that inviting, especially during the regular season, where Wyoming had dropped 19 straight on Jerry Tarkanian Court.
Thanks to a late Xavier DuSell triple and a pair of clutch Brendan Wenzel free throws, Jeff Linder's squad finally peeled that monkey off the program's back in a 59-56 victory over the Rebels in the quarterfinals of the Mountain West Tournament.
And they did it with a home-court advantage.
"Shout out to all the fans that did come. They're a huge part," senior guard Hunter Maldonado said postgame. "Obviously, down the stretch, they brought the noise and made it feel like a home game. With us being the higher seed and having our home jerseys on, like I told the guys before the game, we protect home court. And with everyone coming out here, it's a home game for us. We have to go out there and win."
The fans did their part, helping UW build an early 20-8 lead. With every missed shot from the Rebels -- and there were a lot of them early on -- the sons of guns from ol' Wyoming just got louder.
"The fans, traveling all this way, it gives us the energy that we really need to really pull through," said Brendan Wenzel, a Utah transfer, who led the Cowboys with 12 points and pulled down a season-high seven rebounds. The sophomore guard also dished out the game-winning assist with just 30 ticks remaining on the game clock. "I mean, it's love, man. Seriously. I didn't think we were going to get that many fans at the game, but it felt like a home-court advantage."
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Linder knows exactly what his guys are talking about.
UW's second-year head coach has been on the other side of it.
In 2015, Linder, then an assistant under Leon Rice at Boise State, watched Josh Adams pour in a game-high 27 points and Larry Nance Jr. pitch in with a 20 spot in a 71-66 overtime loss to the Pokes in Sin City.
The Broncos, who were co-champions of the regular season and had easily handled Wyoming by 11 in Boise, had a front-row seat to a highlight reel of dunks and the raucous atmosphere that accompanied it.
"That was the thing that I always remembered," Linder said postgame. "It was the thing that these guys weren't able to experience with COVID, but that's the beauty with the University of Wyoming, to have the support and for people to come."
The Pokes and Broncos will meet again tonight in the semifinals. Boise State, again, the No. 1 seed and reigning regular-season champ, facing a fourth-seeded Wyoming team.
We've seen that script play out before.
"To go out there on UNLV's home floor and to have a home-court advantage with your crowd, just shows you why Wyoming is a special place," Linder added. "And looking forward to tomorrow -- I'm sure there are people probably jumping in their car right now and making their way down (Interstate) 80 toward (Interstate) 15 and making their way down here. So, hopefully, we'll have a lot more brown and gold in the stands tomorrow and we'll drown out the blue and orange."
Tip time is set for 7:30 p.m. MT and the game will be televised on CBS Sports Network.