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Pokes hope to knock off hometown Rebels in MWC quarterfinals

The 20th-ranked UNLV Runnin' Rebels again get to enjoy some home cooking as they entertain the Wyoming Cowboys in the quarterfinals of the 2012 Mountain West Conference Tournament at the Thomas & Mack Center in Sin City.

The third-seeded Rebels, winners of this annual event a total of three times, but not since claiming the trophy in 2008 thanks to a 76-61 beating of BYU, has a distinct advantage against the Cowboys and the rest of the league members because the team has gone undefeated at home (17-0) in 2011-12. Also good news for UNLV is the fact that the team closed out the regular season with three wins in the last four outings, and that final triumph was a 74-63 in this very building against this same opponent only five days ago.

As for the sixth-seeded Cowboys, a program which has appeared in the title game only once in the previous 12 years of this event and lost to San Diego State in 2006 in overtime, they had one of their best overall seasons in recent memory with 20 wins in 30 opportunities. The squad hit a number of snags in conference play, but did manage to take down these same Rebels at home in early February by a score of 68-66, so there is certainly reason to believe Wyoming can make it happen tonight.

As far as the all-time series is concerned, the Rebels own a 29-15 advantage after earning a split during the regular season. UNLV has won all but three of 22 contests that have taken place in Las Vegas over the years.

The winner of this meeting heads right back to the hardwood on Friday when it will clash with the survivor of the Air Force/New Mexico matchup in the semifinals.

The player to watch for the Cowboys is Leonard Washington who managed to log double-doubles in two of the last three outings for the program, although he did come up rather small in the loss here just a few days ago with just nine points and three rebounds as he dealt with four trouble and turned the ball over five times. Nevertheless, in conference play Washington leads the Pokes in both scoring and rebounding with 13.9 ppg and 7.5 rpg and while he has made 41.4 percent of his three-point shots in those 14 games, chances are he'd be better served in the paint where he can clog up the lane at both ends of the floor. Francisco Cruz (12.6 ppg) and Luke Martinez (10.9 ppg) are also important pieces to the offensive puzzle, but so is JayDee Luster (5.1 ppg) who is shooting just 34.5 percent from the floor in conference, but is tops on the team with 52 assists.

Early on in the campaign it appeared as though Mike Moser was going to run away with Player of the Year honors in the MWC, but over the last couple of weeks he has been exposed a bit and his numbers have dropped off. A double- double machine for much of the season, Moser still paced the team in both scoring and rebounding with averages of 14.0 points and 10.7 rebounds per contest, but one has to wonder where his head is at right now. Moser's all- around play has been crucial to the team's success because he's also been responsible for 60 steals and 76 assists over the course of 32 games. Chance Stanback (13.0 ppg) and Anthony Marshall (12.0 ppg) have also been key contributors, the former shooting 74-of-159 (.465) beyond the arc and the latter chipping in with 5.1 rpg and placing second in assists with 148.