UNLV rallies to take Mountain West crownMar 11, 2007 - 7:05 AM LAS VEGAS (Ticker) -- It was a home run for Nevada-Las Vegas.
Michael Umeh scored 18 points and Jo'Van Adams added 15 as the 25th-ranked Rebels rallied to defeat Brigham Young, 78-70, in the Mountain West Conference tournament championship game.
UNLV (28-6) secured an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament by winning the league's tournament title for the first time since 2000, which was also held on its home floor at the Thomas & Mack Center.
It is also the most wins by the program since the Rebels went 34-1 in 1991.
"(It) ranks very high," said UNLV's Lon Kruger, who became the fifth coach in NCAA history to take four different teams to the tournament. "I think especially the way it came about. BYU dominated us early, again, knocked us around, did things they wanted to do.
"Our guys had that look in their eye, yet they kind of regrouped, hung in there and finally got a little bit of activity going defensively, got some defensive boards, made some shots, then got on a really nice roll in the second half."
The Rebels had to weather an early onslaught by the top-seeded Cougars, which bolted to leads of 10-0 and 16-3 en route to a 37-26 advantage at halftime.
Kevin Kruger - the coach's son - helped spark the comeback when he hit a 3-pointer and was fouled, completing the four-point play to cut the deficit to 41-36 just over three minutes into the half. He had been scoreless to that point.
"I think it just helped me relax a little bit," Kevin Kruger said. "It felt good, kind of settled me down a little bit, put me back into kind of the mode I wanted to be in or expected to be in the whole game. It just seemed like the game kind of slowed down after that point for me personally."
The Rebels took their first lead, 53-52, on a 3-pointer by Wendell White with 11:01 to play. BYU wouldn't go away, thanks to a magnificent performance from Keena Young, who scored 22 of his career-high 34 points after halftime.
"My team and my coaches just kept coming to me, and I had to score," Young said. "They gave me the ball and position where I could score. That's all my teammates' doing."
UNLV wouldn't be denied as Kevin Kruger buried a 3-pointer for a 66-60 lead with 3 1/2 minutes left. White added a jumper and the Rebels hit eight straight free throws to seal it.
UNLV finished 16-of-20 from the stripe compared to just 9-of-17 for BYU.
"Free throws were big," Young said. "You know, we didn't make 'em when we should have. But ... we have to keep playing hard."
Gaston Essengue and Kruger scored 10 points apiece for UNLV, which won despite missing its first 10 shots from the floor.
Lee Cummard had 13 points and 13 rebounds for BYU, which dominated the boards, 38-28.
"Well, I thought it was a very hard-fought contest," Cougars coach Dave Rose said. "I thought both teams played really well. I'm very proud of our team. I thought we battled, gave a great effort. They played like champions, like the champions that they are."
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