Luke Nevill, back right, is surrounded by Wyoming defenders, from front to back, Steve Leven, Brandon Ewing and Brad Jones. (AP Photo)
March 10, 2006
DENVER (AP) - Justin Williams' triple-double and Brad Jones' 20 points led seventh-seeded Wyoming (14-17) into the championship of the Mountain West Conference with a 60-47 semifinal victory over sixth-seeded Utah on Friday night.
Williams had 10 points, 15 rebounds and 12 blocked shots, more than double the tournament's previous record of five rejections last accomplished by New Mexico's Danny Granger in 2005.
Jones' 20 points tied his career high, and freshman Brandon Ewing added 17 points.
The Cowboys, whose latest win came on the same day speculation swirled that McClain would be fired after the season, will face league champion San Diego State (23-8) for the title Saturday night and the NCAA tournament trip that goes with it.
It's their first conference championship appearance since 1988.
They upset second-seeded Air Force in the quarterfinals, handing the Falcons a serious setback in their designs on an NCAA tournament bid.
Luke Nevill, the 7-foot freshman who scored a tournament record 29 points and pulled down 14 rebounds in Utah's quarterfinal upset of BYU, got into foul trouble early and was limited to six points in seven first-half minutes as the Utes fell behind 27-19 at halftime. He finished with 17 points and nine boards.
Wyoming's Steve Leven, who scored 20 against Air Force 24 hours earlier, managed just five points against Utah, but they were crucial.
He got his first points on a 3-pointer for a 44-38 lead with 7 1/2 minutes left after the Utes came out of a timeout in a zone. He added a 15-footer a minute later to make it 46-38, and the Cowboys' ball protection, 59 percent shooting and tenacious defense continued to stymie the Utes (14-15).
Nevill's two free throws with 1:38 left pulled Utah to 52-46, but Williams intercepted Johnnie Bryant's pass on the Utes' next possession, and Ewing sank four big free throws to make it 56-47 with 1:03 left.
However, McClain told The Associated Press before tip-off that he might be fired but hadn't been told one way or the other: "I may be gone, I don't know," McClain said.
McClain's contract runs through 2010. He would get a $535,000 buyout if he's fired after this season.
He's 140-99 in eight seasons with the Cowboys. In his first five seasons, McClain guided the Cowboys to three NITs and to the second round of the NCAA tournament in 2002.
Wyoming spokesman Kevin McKinney said Barta didn't have a timeline for his end-of-season review with McClain, who can push it back even further with another upset Saturday night.