Back-to-back to the Big Dance

Wink Adams couldn't eat before Saturday afternoon's Mountain West Conference Tournament championship game against BYU because he was battling the flu. But after the UNLV guard summoned up the strength to score 14 straight points during crunch time, it was the Cougars who were left feeling ill … again.

Adams scored a game-high 23 points, including 4-of-5 3-pointers, and took home tournament MVP honors in the process as the Rebels overcame a 11-point first half deficit to defeat regular season conference champion BYU, 76-61, at the Thomas & Mack Center.

UNLV (26-7) earns an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year. The Rebels will learn their first round opponent and destination on Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. when the pairings are announced.

"I've been sick all week," Adams, who chugged from a Gatorade bottle during timeouts, said. "As we've been playing it's been getting worse and worse. Tonight I knew my teammates needed me to make plays and I was able to knock down some shots."

Not just some shots. Try some really big shots. The Rebels were holding onto a 58-54 lead with 5:01 to go when Adams connected on three 3-pointers in the span of just 71 seconds to extend UNLV's lead to a comfortable nine points, 67-58, with 3:24 remaining.

After BYU forward Lee Cummard sank an 18-foot jumper to cut the margin to seven, 67-60, Adams capped his 14-point scoring streak with a nifty drive to the basket to make it 69-60 with 2:18 remaining to seal the win.

"He's a terrific player," BYU coach Dave Rose said of Adams afterward when asked to explain the 14-point streak. "He's one of the best players in our league. There were maybe a couple of defensive mistakes during that string, but more the most part he was just making big plays. We were contesting his shot. (But) he can get space with his dribble. … He's a good penetrator. He was making big plays at a big time in the game."

Adams scored just seven points in the first half when he spent the final 5:33 on the bench after picking up his second foul. Turns out the prolonged stay on the bench may have actually helped revitalize Adams physically for his big second half.

"I think it did," Adams said. "I got to relax my body and come out in the second half and put some pressure on the ball and do a little extra for my team. But everybody did that in the second half."

In many ways, the game was a carbon copy of UNLV's win over the Cougars in the 2007 title game. BYU jumped out to a 24-8 lead in that one before the Rebels outscored the Cougs by 19 points in the second half to pull out a 78-70 victory. This time BYU (27-7) took an early 23-12 lead but once again were outscored by 19 points after intermission.

"We talked about it before the game," Terry said of eerie comparisons to 2007. "They were a one seed, we were a two. We were on this (visitors) bench again, they were on that bench. We were in the same locker room again. And then things played out the same. We got down early again, we came back and in the second half we kind of started to take over. There were a lot of similarities. Oh, and we got another trophy."

Afterward Adams joined his teammates on top of a press table wearing their new Mountain West Champions t-shirts and hats while waving to the crowd that was chanting "M-V-P, M-V-P" at the 6-foot junior from Houston.

A few minutes later it was official. Adams, who scored a total of 72 points in UNLV's three wins, was named the tourney MVP. He was joined on the all-tournament team by teammates Curtis Terry, who finished with 20 points, and Rene Rougeau, who nearly had his second straight double-double with eight points and 10 rebounds. BYU's Lee Cummard and Utah center Luke Nevill completed the squad.

"It felt the same as it did last year only this time I was in Kevin's place," Adams said referring to 2007 Tourney MVP Kevin Kruger. "They were doing the same thing for Kevin. It feels great to send Curtis and Corey (Bailey) out the same way we did our five seniors last year. Hopefully we can do it again next year."

"This is just as good as last year," Terry said. "I think the best part is that we did it back-to-back. With all the things we've been through this year, losing Emmanuel, Lamar and Marcus, guys playing out of position, expecting to have (7-foot center) Beas (Hamga) … and then we went out there and proved people wrong. We worked together and worked hard and we had fun doing it."

UNLV coach Lon Kruger, a national coach of the year finalist, was asked how the win ranked in his career.

"It's very satisfying," he said. "Every team's a little different. I think this team, it will be real satisfying to look back on what they've accomplished for obvious reasons. Maybe no one really expected them to do that.

"We'll look back on this group with great satisfaction because they accomplished something maybe people didn't expect them to do, played hard all along the way and also very unselfishly."


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