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Nevada guard Garry Hill-Thomas put up a shot over Rice forward Yamar Diene, left, and guard Jason McKrieth yesterday.
back in final
Nevada tops Rice to reach the
WAC tournament title game
FRESNO, Calif. >> A year ago, Nevada was a surprise entrant in the Western Athletic Conference tournament championship game.
Fast-forward 12 months and the Wolf Pack are back in the conference final. But the team's perspective has changed.
"This year we're going into the game and we expect to win," Nevada forward Kirk Snyder said. "Last year, it was kind of like we just wanted to play. This year it's a little bit different."
Nevada, the top seed in the tournament, advanced to today's title game of the McCaffrey Western Athletic Conference tournament with a 67-59 victory over Rice in a semifinal contest last night at the Save Mart Center.
The championship game between Nevada and Texas-El Paso tips off at 4 p.m. (Hawaii time) and will be televised on ESPN2.
Nevada (22-8) was the preseason favorite to win the conference championship after losing to Tulsa in last year's WAC championship game. A win today would give the Wolf Pack their first WAC title and their first berth in the NCAA Tournament since 1985.
"As strong as this league has been, for these guys to be in this position is admirable," Nevada coach Trent Johnson said. "Going into the year, everyone put a big bull's-eye on our chest ... I think for us to battle back and be in this position speaks volumes."
Snyder, the WAC Player of the Year, scored 14 of his game-high 20 points in the second half to lead the Wolf Pack to the final.
Jermaine Washington, came off the bench to score 12 points and grab seven rebounds for the Wolf Pack. Forward Kevinn Pinkney contributed 12 points, 11 rebounds and two blocked shots.
Fourth-seeded Rice, which eliminated Hawaii 70-68 in the quarterfinals on Thursday, fell to 22-10.
Texas-El Paso forward Darius Mattear fell while retrieving the ball during the first half against Boise State yesterday.
The Owls' win total is the program's highest since the 1953-54 season, and Rice coach Willis Wilson said he's expecting a call from the National Invitation Tournament. Hawaii is also hoping for an NIT berth.
"I'll be shocked if we're not selected, but I've been shocked before," Wilson said.
The Owls were hampered by foul trouble to two of their biggest contributors. Forward Michael Harris, who torched Hawaii for 29 points on Thursday, picked up two fouls in the first half and finished with 14 points and five rebounds before fouling out with 6:52 left in the game.
"When we got into foul trouble we could not play quite as aggressively and we did not get to the foul line as much as I would have hoped," Wilson said.
Rice's front line was further depleted when center Yamar Diene left the game with a hip injury midway through the second half.
Nevada made 20 of 29 free throws in the physical contest, while Rice was 9-for-16. Wilson said he couldn't comment on the foul situation "without saying something I shouldn't say."
Trailing 20-15 midway through the first half, Nevada went on a 10-0 run and took the lead on a 3-pointer by Todd Okeson.
The Wolf Pack would not trail again as Snyder attacked the Rice defense on drives into the lane. The junior was 4-for-6 from the field and 6-for-9 from the free-throw line after halftime.
"In the beginning of the game, it's harder because guys are standing in the lane playing good defense," Snyder said. "It opened up a bit in the second half and you could kind of see it as a player. I tried to take advantage of that."
Texas-El Paso 85, Boise State 73: The second-seeded Miners continued their turnaround season by holding off the Broncos and advancing to the WAC championship game for the first time since 1993.
UTEP (23-6), which went 6-24 last year, shot 53 percent from the field and made 23 of 29 free throws in the second half to thwart a Boise State rally.
UTEP guard Chris Craig hit four 3-pointers and scored a game-high 19 points. Guard Jason Williams was 7-for-11 from the field and finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds. Forward Roy Smallwood contributed 13 points.
Boise State (21-9) got 16 points from Bryan Defares and 12 from Coby Karl and Eric Lane.
UTEP led 35-34 at halftime and hit 11 of its first 17 shots of the second half and opened up a 66-55 lead when Filiberto Rivera banked in a 3-pointer from the top of the key with six minutes left.
Boise State scored the next eight points, six on 3-pointers by Karl, to cut the UTEP lead to 66-63 with four minutes left.
The game then became a free-throw shooting contest. Boise State missed four in a row, while UTEP made six straight to reclaim control. The Miners went to the line 36 times in the game and made 28 attempts.
WAC Men's Tournament
Nevada vs. UTEP, 4 p.m. Hawaii time (ESPN2)
Nevada 67, Rice 59
RICE: Harris 6-10 2-4 14, Diene 2-5 0-0 4, Gillespie 1-3 1-2 3, Smith 4-7 1-2 10, McKrieth 8-16 2-2 20, Kollik 1-2 0-0 3, Harrison 0-3 1-2 1, Almond 0-4 0-0 0, Moore 1-4 2-5 4. Totals 23-54 9-16 59.
NEVADA: Pinkney 3-8 6-8 12, Fazekas 2-8 0-2 4, Snyder 6-13 8-11 20, Okeson 2-7 3-4 8, Hill-Thomas 5-8 1-2 11, Washington 5-7 2-2 12, Paul 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 23-52 20-29 67.
Halftime--Nevada 25-23. 3-Point goals--Rice 4-17 (McKrieth 2-6, Smith 1-3, Almond 0-2, Gillespie 0-2, Harrison 0-2, Kollik 1-1, Moore 0-1), Nevada 1-9 (Okeson 1-4, Snyder 0-3, Fazekas 0-2). Fouled out--Harris, Kollik, Washington. Rebounds--Rice 28 (Harris 5), Nevada 37 (Pinkney 11). Assists--Rice 8 (Moore 3), Nevada 7 (Snyder 3). Total fouls--Rice 27, Nevada 17. A--N/A.
UTEP 85, Boise St. 73
BOISE STATE: Haynes 4-14 3-4 11, Ellis 1-4 4-6 6, Defares 5-13 6-6 16, Skiffer 0-0 0-0 0, Karl 4-6 0-0 12, Lane 4-8 2-2 12, Nabors 2-8 0-0 6, Blackburn 2-5 0-4 4, Harris 2-5 0-0 6. Totals 24-63 15-22 73.
UTEP: Smallwood 3-9 7-8 13, Tofi 2-4 0-0 4, Williams 7-11 1-2 15, Craig 4-6 7-8 19, Rivera 2-6 5-8 10, St. Amant 1-2 1-2 3, Mattear 0-0 0-1 0, Thomas 7-11 7-7 21. Totals 26-49 28-36 85.
Halftime--UTEP 35-34. 3-Point goals--Boise St. 10-27 (Nabors 2-7, Karl 4-5, Harris 2-5, Haynes 0-4, Lane 2-3, Defares 0-3), UTEP 5-11 (Craig 4-6, Rivera 1-3, Smallwood 0-2). Fouled out--Karl. Rebounds--Boise St. 30 (Ellis 9), UTEP 39 (Williams 10). Assists--Boise St. 17 (Defares 8), UTEP 21 (Rivera, Williams 4). Total fouls--Boise St. 28, UTEP 20. A--5,651.