Las Vegas, NV (SportsNetwork.com) - The Boise State Broncos, the 25th-ranked team in the land, continue their quest for an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament as they clash with the Wyoming Cowboys in the semifinals of the Mountain West Conference Tournament at the Thomas & Mack Center on Friday night.
The hottest team in the MWC, top-seeded Boise State closed out the regular season on a six-game win streak and added to that with a convincing 80-68 triumph over upstart Air Force on Thursday afternoon in the quarterfinals of the tourney. The Broncos have now won an astounding 15 of their last 16 games, with the lone setback coming on the road at former Western Athletic Conference foe Fresno State on Valentine's Day, 70-64.
As for the Cowboys, they are into the tournament's semifinals for the first time since 2009, thanks to a narrow 67-65 victory against Utah State on Thursday afternoon. Like BSU, the Pokes are still waiting to bring home their first trophy from this event.
During the regular season, Wyoming won the lone meeting between the squads back in January by a score of 65-54 in Laramie, as Larry Nance Jr. registered a double-double consisting of 18 points and 10 rebounds for the hosts as they knocked down 52.7 percent from the floor, compared to just 39.6 percent for the visitors.
The winner of this meeting will go up against the survivor of the Colorado State/San Diego State battle in the title game on Saturday evening.
In a bout that featured five ties and 16 lead changes, Wyoming led by as many as nine points in the final two minutes of regulation before having to hang on for the close call against Utah State. Except for Derek Cooke Jr. who finished with six points and a team-best 10 rebounds, every starter for the Pokes finished in double digits, led by Josh Adams with 19 points on 8-of-15 shooting from the field.
Charles Hankerson Jr. accounted for 16 points, Nance Jr. 13 points and seven rebounds, but also five of the unit's nine turnovers, followed by Riley Grabau with 11 points. Wyoming used just three players off the bench and of them, only Alan Herndon was heard from in the scoring column with a mere two points.
After 32 games, Nance Jr. remains the leading scorer and rebounder for the Cowboys with 16.0 points and 7.4 rebounds per contest, although he did miss some games late in the season due to an illness.
Early on against Air Force, the Broncos ran into some issues as Derrick Marks, the MWC Player of the Year, got into foul trouble and played only six scoreless minutes in the first half. Nick Duncan picked up some of the slack as he tallied eight points on 3-of-9 shooting from the floor in the frame, but no one else had more than a single field goal through the first 20 minutes of action.
In the second half, Duncan settled himself out on the perimeter and knocked down an impressive 5-of-9 from distance, while Marks came back with 13 points, four rebounds and four assists in the frame to help lead the favorites to victory. Duncan tallied a game-high 23 points for the Broncos, his 7-of-15 shooting beyond the arc leaving him one short of the record for made 3- pointers in a single MWC Tournament game. After Marks, Igor Hadziomerovic and Rob Heyer accounted for 11 points apiece, helping to pick up James Webb III who was left with just eight points and five rebounds as he too dealt with foul trouble.