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Peaking Pack heading to Mountain West party

The Mountain West men's basketball tournament opens Wednesday in Las Vegas.
The Mountain West men's basketball tournament opens Wednesday in Las Vegas.
Mountain West

The Nevada Wolf Pack men's basketball team is just three victories away from the NCAA Tournament.

The Wolf Pack, which stunned the UNLV Rebels 76-72 Saturday night at Lawlor Events Center with a 17-point second-half comeback, now heads to Las Vegas' Thomas & Mack Center for the Mountain West postseason tournament.

The winner of the tournament earns the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. The Pack hasn't been to the NCAA tournament since it went four seasons in a row from 2004-07.

The Wolf Pack's victory over UNLV earned them the third seed and a first-round bye in the conference tournament. The Wolf Pack, now 15-16 overall and 10-8 in the Mountain West, will play the winner of Wednesday's Boise State-San Jose State game on Thursday night at 8:30 p.m.

The top five teams in the regular season earned a first-round bye. San Diego State (27-3, 16-2) is No. 1 followed by New Mexico (24-6, 15-3), the Wolf Pack, UNLV (19-12, 10-8) and Wyoming (18-13, 9-9).

Wyoming won a tiebreaker with Boise State and Fresno State to earn the coveted No. 5 seed by virtue of its win over league champion San Diego State. Boise then won a tiebreaker for the No. 6 seed with Fresno State because it beat league runner-up New Mexico.

The tournament opens Wednesday night with three games between the final six seeds. Utah State plays Colorado State at 2 p.m. followed by Fresno State-Air Force at 4:30 p.m. and Boise State-San Jose State at 7 p.m. Boise State (19-12, 9-9) is the No. 6 seed, Fresno State (16-15, 9-9) is No. 7, Utah State (17-13, 7-11) is No. 8, Colorado State (16-15, 7-11) is No. 9, Air Force (12-17, 6-12) is No. 10 and San Jose State (7-23, 1-17) is 11th.

The Wolf Pack was 1-1 this year against both San Jose State and Boise State. San Jose's victory over the Pack was its only Mountain West victory this year. The Pack has won three of its last four games since the shocking loss to San Jose State with one of those three victories at Boise State last Wednesday, 83-81 in double overtime.

Boise State, thogh, is slumping. The Broncos were stunned by Air Force 64-61 in overtime at Air Force on Saturday and have now lost three of their last four games. The Broncos' recent slide comes after an 11-day stretch (Feb. 12-22) when they beat New Mexico, Colorado State and UNLV.

A win on Thursday will get the Pack to the semifinals on Friday night, also at 8:30 p.m., against either New Mexico, Fresno State or Air Force. The Fresno State-Air Force winner on Wednesday will play New Mexico on Thursday. The Pack split with Fresno State this season, swept Air force and lost twice to New Mexico by 18 and 14 points.

San Diego State earned the conference's regular season title by beating New Mexico on Saturday night, 51-48, at San Diego State. The Aztecs had to rally from a 41-25 deficit with 12 minutes to go to earn the victory. New Mexico made just 2-of-14 3-pointers (San Diego State was 0-for-9 from long distance) in the game.

The Mountain West regular season champion has only won the postseason tournament twice -- San Diego State in 2006 and New Mexico last year -- in the tournament's 14-year history. The top two seeds have advanced to the title game five times (2005, 2007, 2008, 2011, 2012).

A No. 3 seed has won the tournament just once, in 2004 when Utah beat UNLV, 73-70, in Denver. A No. 3 seed got to the title game three other times (all by UNLV) and lost all three times, in 2002, 2010, 2013.

The Mountain West tournament has been at Thomas & Mack every year since 2007. UNLV has gotten to the title game four times in that span, winning twice.

The Wolf Pack will like have to win the tournament to get to the NCAA Tournament or at least get to the title game to have a chance at another postseason tournament.

The Wolf Pack has not won more than one conference tournament game in one year since 2009, Mark Fox's final year as head coach.

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