Cowboys and Aztecs battle for MWC crown

Mar 14, 2015 - 2:49 PM Las Vegas, NV ( - An invitation to the NCAA Tournament is up for grabs on Saturday at the Thomas & Mack Center as the Wyoming Cowboys and the San Diego State Aztecs do battle in the championship game of the 16th annual Mountain West Conference Tournament.

The Aztecs are no stranger to this environment, having captured the crown a total of four times previously and played in the title game in two of the previous three years. In 2014 San Diego State bowed to New Mexico (64-58) yet again, but this time around the Aztecs might be considered the favorite since they are the second seed.

San Diego State arrived in the finals of the event by first defeating host UNLV on Thursday night in a 67-64 decision, and then taking out a short-handed Colorado State crew Friday by a score of 56-43.

As for the fourth-seeded Cowboys, they scored an upset of top-seeded and nationally ranked Boise State on Friday night, delivering a 71-66 win in overtime. The victory came on the heels of a narrow 67-65 triumph over Utah State the day before.

Unlike SDSU, the Cowboys have yet to notch a win in the championship of this tourney.

Wyoming leads the all-time series by a count of 39-37, but the Aztecs won both of the regular-season matchups in 2014-15, the first being a 60-52 decision in Laramie on Jan. 14 and the other a 67-41 romp over the visiting Pokes at Viejas Arena a month later.

This will be the fourth time that the squads have clashed in the MWC Tournament and the second time it has happened in the championship game as SDSU posted a 69-64 overtime victory back in 2006. The Aztecs enter this meeting having won five straight neutral site games versus Wyoming.

Wyoming may have been able to squeeze a game-high 27 points out of Josh Adams on Friday night in the upset of Boise State, but many will say the real hero of the game for the Cowboys was reserve Jason McManamen, who connected on both of his 3-point attempts, one of which banked off the glass to beat the shot clock late in the overtime session.

Larry Nance Jr. accounted for 20 points and Riley Grabau 13, the latter being the nation's top free-throw shooter and making all eight of his attempts at the charity stripe.

Nance Jr., who missed a handful of games late in the season due to illness, is averaging 16.1 ppg and 7.3 rpg, both of which pace the Cowboys this season. Adams is adding another 13.2 ppg and is first on the unit with 119 assists and 47 steals, showing quick hands at both ends of the floor.

Against a Colorado State team that was missing a key player in J.J. Avila (16.9 ppg), the Aztecs leaned on Aqeel Quinn for a team-high 21 points, the guard shooting 5-of-6 behind the 3-point line and 8-of-10 from the floor for a team that was a mere 6-of-22 from the field in the first half before converting 57.7 percent after the break. JJ O'Brien pitched in with 15 points and Winston Shepard 12 and 10 rebounds for a squad that made good on 7-of-14 shots from 3-point range but only 18-of-28 at the charity stripe.

In the two conference tournament games, Quinn has averaged 18.5 ppg by shooting a sensational 66.7 percent behind the 3-point line and 65 percent from the field overall. Shepard checks in with 14.0 ppg and a team-leading 7.5 rpg, allowing the squad to slip by the opposition on the glass by 3.0 rpg. Although he has shot only 36.4 percent from the field, O'Brien is good for another 11.5 ppg.

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