San Diego State's Aqeel Quinn reacts during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Wyoming for the Mountain West Conference tournament championship Saturday, March 14, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)
Isaac Brekken
March 14, 2015

LAS VEGAS (AP) Wyoming's Charles Hankerson Jr. ran over to the scorer's table and gave TV analyst Reggie Miller a giant bear hug.

''That's Reggie Miller!'' he said to the Cowboys fans screaming in his direction. ''That's Reggie Miller!''

It's easy to understand Hankerson's joy. The Cowboys are riding into the NCAA Tournament after a long wait.

Josh Adams hit a big 3-pointer with a minute left and Wyoming earned its first trip to the NCAA Tournament in 13 years with a 45-43 victory over San Diego State in the Mountain West Conference championship Saturday.

''We've been so close before, just seeing it slip right from our fingertips,'' Wyoming senior Larry Nance Jr. said. ''To know that this is ours, and there's nothing anybody can do to take that away from us, like I said, it's everything we imagined and more.''

Wyoming (25-9) went through four good-but-not great seasons under coach Larry Shyatt, reaching 20 wins twice, but not the NCAA Tournament.

The Cowboys had a rough stretch this season when Nance, their leading scorer went out with an illness, leaving them essentially needing to win the Mountain West's automatic bid to get into the bracket.

Wyoming survived a pair of tight games to get into the championship game and was caught in a physical, defensive-dominated fight against San Diego State.

The Cowboys kept it close despite opening the second half with a scoreless streak of 8:31 against the long, athletic Aztecs by relying on their own stingy defense.

Adams hit the game's biggest shot, a 3-pointer with 1:02 left that put Wyoming up 43-41. San Diego State (26-8) missed shots on its next two possessions and Wyoming's Derek Cooke Jr., a 52 percent free-throw shooter, hit two free throws with 7 seconds left.

The Aztecs' Malik Pope scored on a putback with less than a second left, but Wyoming was able to get the ball in cleanly to earn its first conference tournament championship since 1988, as a member of the WAC.

Nance had 14 points and Adams had 10 for the Cowboys, who had one big party at center court after their long-awaited ticket was punched.

''Everyone said we couldn't do it,'' Adams said. ''Nance goes down, we can't do it. Nance plays great, we can't do it. And we're here, so I think that says it itself.''

San Diego State has had offensive woes at times this season and struggled against Wyoming, shooting 32 percent and 4 of 17 from 3-point range. The Aztecs stayed in it behind their defense, limiting the Cowboys to 5 of 22 shooting in the second half.

San Diego State wasn't able to hit the big shot, though, and Wyoming was, leaving the Aztecs in NCAA Tournament limbo until Selection Sunday.

Pope had 13 points and JJ O'Brien added 12 for San Diego State.

''I'm disappointed we're not the ones out chopping the nets down, but we're not. That's the reality of it,'' San Diego coach Steve Fisher said. ''That disappointment and feeling truly has no boundaries.

Wyoming was in decent NCAA Tournament shape until Nance missed four games due to mononucleosis and lost five of its final eight games as he tried regain his strength.

The Cowboys had won three games since 2006 in the MWC tournament, but edged Utah State in their tournament opener, then upset top-seeded Boise State in overtime in the semifinals.

San Diego State won the two meetings during the regular season, though one of those was when Nance was out.

The Aztecs came out flat in the rematch, missing nine of their first 10 shots as the Cowboys opened the game with a 14-2 run.

Wyoming made 8 of 10 to open, building a 22-13 behind Nance, who had 12 points by halftime.

''We started the game not guarding the way you have to guard,'' Fisher said. ''To Wyoming's credit, they made shots, but they were open shots.''

But for all that went wrong early for the Aztecs, they managed to claw their way back, pulling within 28-25 by halftime.

San Diego State had a repeat start in the second half, missing eight of its first nine shots.

The Aztecs made up for it on defense, forcing the Cowboys to miss their first eight shots before Adams hit a 3-pointer at 11:29. They also did a much better job of keeping Nance in check; Wyoming's leading scorer didn't take his first shot of the second half until the 9-minute mark.

Wyoming's defense was solid, though, allowing the Cowboys to keep San Diego State within reach in the back-and-forth game.

TIP INS

Wyoming: The tournament title was the first in any sport by Wyoming in the Mountain West Conference. ... The Cowboys shot 35 percent.

San Diego State: The Aztecs were in the title game for the sixth time in seven years. ... SDSU went 6 for 24 from the floor in the second half and shot 32 percent overall.

UP NEXT

Wyoming plays in the NCAA Tournament.

San Diego State has to wait for Selection Sunday to see if it gets a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

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