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No. 25 UNLV cruises past Colo. St. into MWC finals

LAS VEGAS -- Nobody's enjoying the switch from the Rocky
Mountains to the high desert more than the UNLV Runnin' Rebels.

The 25th-ranked Rebels swept into the championship game of the
Mountain West tournament Friday night with a 88-72 semifinal win
over Colorado State at the rocking Thomas & Mack Center.

Sagging attendance forced the conference to move the event from
the Pepsi Center in Denver after three years back to the Las Vegas
campus where it was held the first four years.

And the Rebels handily won their 16th straight game on their
homecourt, where they're 17-1 this season.

``It's nice. We sleep in our beds and play in our gym,'' said
Kevin Kruger, a fifth-year senior who transferred from Arizona
State to play for his father, Lon, this season.

``To me if feels great,'' Wink Adams added. ``I mean, it doesn't
change for me. It's just like playing in the regular season,
playing at home in front of fans.''

They'll be counting on those fans to help them Saturday night
when the second-seeded Rebels (27-6), ranked this week for the
first time since the final week of the 1992-93 season, face
regular-season champion BYU (25-7) for the trophy.

The teams split this season, with UNLV winning at home 88-75 but
losing on the road by 27 last month.

Although the winner gets an automatic NCAA tournament berth, the
loser will get an at-large bid. The conference was hoping for four
bids, but Air Force lost its last four games and San Diego State
was upset by Colorado State in the tournament quarterfinals, making
for a nervous Selection Sunday for those schools.

The Rebels are 9-2 in the Mountain West tournament in Las Vegas,
but went just 4-3 in three seasons in Denver. They won the
inaugural conference crown in 2000 at the Thomas & Mack.

Kruger scored 19 of his 21 points in the first half and dished
out nine assists. Adams added 18 points and Michael Umeh 15.

``The way we play as a team leaves a lot of people open,'' Kevin
Kruger said. ``Like we've said from Day 1, there isn't really one
person you can focus on. I was open. My teammates were finding me.
The ball was just going in tonight.''

Jason Smith's 16 points and 11 rebounds led the Rams (17-13),
who got 14 points from Stuart Creason and 13 each from Cory Lewis
and Tim Denson.

UNLV led 41-31 at the half and started the second half on a 10-1
run to take away any doubt about the outcome.

The Rebels hit 15-of-25 from the arc, with Kruger leading the
way at 5-for-7, although Matt Shaw's 3-pointer with 3.4 seconds
left drew the ire of Lon Kruger, who made Shaw apologize to Rams
coach Dale Layer.

``They're on their homecourt and they're shooting the lights
out,'' Layer said. ``Who's going to beat them tonight?''

Layer is 103-106 in seven seasons at CSU and there's speculation
the school will pay him a $185,000 buyout for next season and hire
a new coach. Already, New Mexico and Utah are looking for new
coaches.

UNLV's 27 wins are its most since 1990-91 when the Rebels went
34-1.