Wyoming Wins First-Ever MW Tournament Championship in Any Sport with Victory Over San Diego State
By W.G. Ramirez
Special to TheMW.com
LAS VEGAS - Compared to his first two games of the 2015 Mountain West Men's Championship, Wyoming's Josh Adams was rather quiet for most of Saturday's title game against San Diego State.
Yet it seemed only fitting the ball end up in his hands with a little more than a minute left, and certainly was no surprise he drained a 3-pointer with exactly one minute left in the game when his Cowboys needed it most.
Adams' shot put Wyoming ahead 43-41, and Derek Cooke Jr.'s two free throws with seven seconds left iced the game for the Cowboys, who with the victory, won their first-ever Mountain West tournament championship in any sport. With the win, Wyoming is the seventh MW team in league history to win a Mountain West tournament title.
Adams, who averaged 18.6 points per game during the MW Tournament, took an inbounds pass with .4 seconds left and raced across the court like a running back, in jubilation, as the Cowboys return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2002.
And it was quite a ride for Laramie's buckaroos, who went through a rough stretch mid-season, when Larry Nance Jr. - their leading scorer - sat out after being diagnosed with a mild case of mononucleosis.
Ultimately, it left the Cowboys needing to win the Mountain West's automatic bid to dance with the big boys.
"Countless hours on and off the court, just talking about this day for the last three years, four years of my life, since I was a senior in high school, just talking about this day," said Adams, who was named MVP of the MW Tournament and was joined by Larry Nance Jr. on the all-tournament team. "Everyone said we couldn't do it. Nance goes down, we can't do it. Nance plays great, we can't do it. And we're here, so... I think that says it itself."
Said Nance: "We've been so close before. Just seeing it slip right from our fingertips. To know that this is ours, and there's nothing anybody can do to take that away from us, it's everything we imagined and more."
Nance led the Cowboys with 14 points and six rebounds, whil Adams had 10 points.
Wyoming raced out to a 14-2 lead over the first seven minutes, on the strength of Nance's seven points, while the Aztecs struggled offensively, missing 10 of their first 12 shots. Meanwhile, the Cowboys connected on six of their first nine field-goal attempts.
The Aztecs responded with a 20-14 run to climb back into the game, though the Pokes never lost control of their pace, or scoring prowess. San Diego State's Matt Shrigley knocked down a 3-pointer with 56.9 seconds left in the half to pull the Aztecs within three, 28-25, before teammate Malik Pope blocked Wyoming's Jack Bentz's shot at the other end.
"We started the game not guarding the way you have to guard," San Diego State coach Steve Fisher said. "To Wyoming's credit, they made shots. But they were open shots. They were too good of looks that we allowed to happen. They made all of them early."
Thus, out of the break, the Cowboys found themselves in a defensive tussle that saw the teams shoot a combined 11 of 46 (23.9 percent) from the field in the second half.
After playing from behind in the first half, San Diego State used an 8-0 run to open the second half, while holding the Cowboys scoreless until Adams buried a 3-pointer at the 11:27 mark, cutting the Aztecs' lead to 33-31 at that point. The Cowboys regained the lead when Nance's dunk put them ahead, 36-35 with 8:03 remaining.
Malik Pope, who led the Aztecs with 13 points, returned the favor at the other end with a layup that gave San Diego State a one-point edge, but Cooke's three-point play and a free throw by Riley Grabau put the Pokes up by three, 40-37. The Aztecs scored the next four points - all by JJ O'Brien - and re-took the lead, 41-40 with 1:36 left, setting Adams up for his big trey.
"Josh has abilities that not a lot of people have at 6'1. Because of that, you have to allow him a little bit longer leash than some others," Wyoming coach Larry Shyatt said. "He's got oodles of energy. You can't always control doing your best. There's another team and a little hoop. But to try to do your best, I don't know if you can say anything's more important. Josh really, I think, epitomizes that."
Willie Ramirez is a Las Vegas-based freelance reporter and Southern Nevada correspondent for The Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter: @AP_WG