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Wyoming hopes that recent adversity will strengthen it in this week's Mountain West Tournament

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LARAMIE, Wyoming — Riley Grabau can't help but laugh.

Basketball, for Grabau and his teammates, is a matter of perspective. A 14-point halftime deficit at Nevada, for example, is nothing compared to a debilitating season-ending suspension. A home loss to Fresno State pales in comparison to a torn ACL, or an untimely virus.

In his four seasons in Laramie, Grabau and his fellow seniors have endured it all — the never-ending suspension of Luke Martinez in 2012-13, Nance's sudden fall last season, and even a touch of mononucleosis in the middle of this year's conference play.

The Cowboys have walked over an ocean of hot coals, and that path has led them here. To this moment.

"I've talked to the team, and I think we feel well-prepared for anything that's going to happen. Anything," Grabau repeated. "We've been through a lot of adversity.

"Sometimes during the huddles when stuff isn't going our way, I just laugh and say, 'This is normal. We've been through a whole lot worse.'"

The Cowboys emerge from that abyss as a 4-seed in this week's Mountain West Tournament, perhaps strengthened by the perpetual waves crashing against their shore.

In the quarterfinal game against Utah State on Thursday, an early deficit won't be enough to sink them. Larry Shyatt's team won't be shaken by foul trouble or the occasional 8-0 run from an opponent.

Wyoming (22-9, 11-7 MW) has been met with choppy waters before. And in doing so, the Cowboys learned to swim.

"I think that's why this team is so resilient in the short term — the five minutes in a game where a team comes out and gets three or four 3's and we go down by 11. We're able to recognize that adversity is always going to hit," junior guard Josh Adams said.

"Nothing is ever going to be smooth sailing. We can recover from that, whether it's in the long term like two players go down with mono, or in the short term when you're down 15 to Nevada. It comes down to having that experience."

Experience, above all else, is where Wyoming and Utah State differ. The Cowboys start four seniors and a junior, five-deep with battle-tested players who have seen it all before.

Stew Morrill's Aggies, on the other hand, share none of the veteran know-how of their coach. Utah State is led by a junior who is playing his first season in the conference (Chris Smith), a true sophomore (Jalen Moore) and a redshirt freshman (David Collette).

On Thursday, the Aggies will start two juniors, a sophomore and two freshmen.

And in Las Vegas, on an elevated stage, Wyoming will look to take advantage when it matters most.

"Experience is most important in the first eight minutes and the last eight minutes," Adams said. "You have to come out and jump on teams and punch them in the mouth, so to speak.

"Then in those last eight minutes, when it gets to crunch time and you're up by 20 or you're up by four, you have to come in and settle down and finish out the game, regardless of what it is."

Shyatt can't predict whether his team's considerable adversity will propel it to greater heights, or drag it to the ocean floor.

But regardless of what happens this week, the Cowboys and their coach will come out of it together.

"I don't think I've ever said that I like this team," Shyatt said. "I've said over and over again that I love this team. I wish they were all my sons and fraternity brothers."


Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com

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