GAME NOTES: The Nevada Wolf Pack get their first taste of the 2013 Mountain West Conference Tournament on Tuesday night, as they open the 14th annual event against the Wyoming Cowboys at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.
While ninth-seeded Nevada is remaining within the Silver State, this is the program's first opportunity to take part in this tourney after coming over from the Western Athletic Conference. The Pack played well during the non- conference schedule (9-5), but then the MWC slate began and the team struggled mightily with a total of only three wins. Since their most recent triumph versus Air Force (74-69) not more than a month ago, the Pack has bowed in seven straight contests.
As for the eighth-seeded Cowboys, they showed plenty of promise early on with 13 straight wins coming out of the gate, but then it all fell apart. Wyoming was forced to suspend its leading scorer due to an off-the-court incident, and then also had to deal with another key injury and they consequently won a total of just four league bouts. As they enter the MWC Tournament with a record of 7-13 all-time in the event, the Pokes find themselves dealing with a five-game slide to close out the regular season.
The all-time series between these two squads has been dominated by the Cowboys who have won all but one of the previous 10 encounters. Wyoming swept both regular-season matchups with a 59-48 triumph in Reno and a 68-48 victory at home. Nevada also lost in this building at the end of January in a 66-54 setback versus UNLV.
The winner of this meeting will be back in action on Wednesday to challenge top-seeded and nationally-ranked New Mexico in the quarterfinals.
The success of Nevada comes down to the play of Malik Story and Deonte Burton, but even when they both put up significant points it doesn't always result in a positive outcome. Story leads the team in scoring with his 16.6 ppg, hitting a team-best 78 3-pointers, but overall he shot only 40.7 percent from the floor. Burton has accounted for 15.9 ppg and was also tops with 106 assists as he tried to keep his teammates involved in the action. Unfortunately, the knock on Burton is that he's made just 29.5 percent of his shots beyond the arc and that has taken the entire team down to just 30.4 percent which is a far cry from the 37.3 percent accuracy on the perimeter by the competition.
Wyoming's struggles began right around the time that Luke Martinez (14.5 ppg) found himself with not only an injury but also no team to go back to as he was suspended for behavior off the court. Without Martinez, the Cowboys have been leaning heavily on Leonard Washington (13.0 ppg) who is not only the active leading scorer but is also first on the glass for the group with 8.7 rpg. Add to that a team-best 53 blocked shots and you would think that Washington knew that his strength was in the paint and not out beyond the arc where he is shooting only 13-of-78 (.167), but maybe he knows just how desperate the Pokes have been. Derrious Gilmore checks in with 11.8 ppg and is tops with 80 assists for a team that basis most of its efforts at the defensive end of the floor where it is holding the opposition to 57.6 ppg.
Even though the Cowboys will be trying to keep the scoring to a minimum in this meeting, that might just work in Nevada's favor if Story and Burton can get on the same page and not take too many poor shots.
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