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NCAA Tournament:

The Rebels’ furious rally an example of what UNLV could have been this season

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV guard Justin Hawkins celebrates his three-point shot that brought the Rebels to within two points of Colorado during their second round NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship game Thursday, March 15, 2012 in Albuquerque. It was the closest the Rebels got as UNLV lost the game 68-64.

Fri, Mar 16, 2012 (1 a.m.)

UNLV vs. Colorado State

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KSNV coverage of UNLV taking on Colorado in New Mexico during the NCAA Tournament, March 15, 2012.

ALBUQUERQUE — UNLV’s attempted comeback Thursday wasn’t a slow build, steady drips of water slowly eroding away the surface. This was an avalanche, fast, hard and out of control.

The Rebels trailed 57-41 with 8:27 left in their season when UNLV coach Dave Rice substituted sophomore forward Mike Moser in for junior forward Carlos Lopez.

That made the lineup Moser, senior small forward Chace Stanback, junior guards Anthony Marshall and Justin Hawkins and senior guard Oscar Bellfield.

“That’s our best lineup when we press and go small,” Rice said after UNLV’s 68-64 loss to Colorado.

Bellfield hit a shot. They forced two turnovers then hit another. Colorado called a timeout, and after a pair of Hawkins free throws they turned it over twice more in an 18-second span. A Bellfield 3 cut it to seven, a Marshall layup cut it to five and Hawkins’ 3-pointer with 4:19 to play made it a two-point game.

“We put ourselves in a very deep hole getting down 20, and when you do that everything has to go perfectly,” Rice said. “It almost did.”

All told it was a 12-0 run over four minutes that included six Colorado turnovers. Once UNLV started applying full-court pressure, the Buffs looked rattled for the first time all day and momentum very quickly shifted in the Rebels’ favor.

“Just wanted to leave it all out there. It wasn’t anything more than that,” Moser said.

Colorado could barely get into its offense, attempting only three shots during the rally. That UNLV lineup found a spark that had been missing the entire game and really the last month of the season.

“All I can think about is how we fought back, how we battled,” said Bellfield, who has played his final game in UNLV uniform. “If we did that before, maybe two minutes before or even in the first half, things would have been different.”

But they didn’t start it earlier. UNLV couldn’t put its offense and defense together until it started pressuring Colorado, and the Rebels didn’t start doing that until midway through the second half.

The risk with a press is giving up easy baskets, which Colorado eventually found when Carlon Brown broke away for a dunk with 2:27 left that seemed to calm the Buffaloes’ nerves. That put Colorado up by five, and UNLV couldn’t cut the deficit back to one possession until there were eight seconds left and the game was all but over.

UNLV didn’t roll over. It didn’t quit when all hope seemed lost. That’s the silver lining on an altogether gray day.

“Everybody has heart on this team, we didn’t want to go out like that,” Bellfield said.

Rice talked about that run giving the team momentum into the off-season, a nice thought that reeks of “wait and see.” It’s very frustrating for the fans to see in that stretch what UNLV is capable of — and what they’ve been capable of all season — and not be able to figure out why it only came in spurts if at all.

Another early exit leaves another pile of questions. The run is a good tease, as Rice said, to build off if they can harness that energy and effort. But there’s no guarantee that it will lead to anything.

“We fought to the end, till the buzzer sounded,” Marshall said. “That’s something to be proud of.”

As good as the run was, it may just be a moment that gets left behind, tossed aside with the other disappointments from a year when potential and production didn’t meet nearly enough.

Taylor Bern can be reached at 948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Taylor on Twitter at twitter.com/taylorbern.

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Discussion: 18 comments so far…

  1. Personally, I couldn't care less about some dopey sport or some dopey team both of which are meaningless in the long run. However, now that the local season is over maybe it will free up space in the "newspapers" for the really important events going on around the state, the country and the world.

  2. Congratulations Rebels.

    You got to the dance with your first year with Mr. Rice and rebuilding. You had a decent year overall.

    There is always next year!

  3. That picture is the most emotion I have ever seen out of RICE.

  4. Give the Rebel credit, they played over their ability the entire season. Many of us did not expect the Rebel to do as well as they did this season. The Rebel had a hard schedule, they were worn down in end.

    What is telling, the Rebel in the past 6 years seem to expect losing in game they should win. It seems the UNLV coaches (Kuger included) lack the "extra" the players need in situations the players cannot see, but the coaches should see. It's call making adjustments during the game. You know, like stopping a player that beating you from the outside. A player you can stop, but for so reason the Rebels never make obvious adjustments. Remember the Wichita State game, Wisconsin, New Mexico, and several other games if you followed Rebel basketball this season.

    High hopes, then the huge let down. Rice and Company need to establish in the next team and in themselves, a confidence winning. If you were watching this Rebel team and the coaches this season, you saw "I quit" in this team when they were challenged. If we saw it, the opposing coaches saw it, and they went after the Rebels knowing they would not respond. In many games the other coaches were smiling knowning all that is needed is to push the Rebels several times and they would break.

    Rice and Company will not get quality recruits to come to UNLV if a recruits see what many of us see, that basketball at UNLV is mediocre and losing is acceptable. UNLV will attract players with the same mindset, that losing when you should be winning is acceptable in basketball UNLV. Hard assessment, but actions speak volumes on court, and on the bench.

  5. Wow everything that I said was proven true last night. You should have saved on transportation cost and just stayed in Vegas. Guess this will not give Rice the raise he needs to buy a jacket. Always next year for you guys to get past the 1st round.. Go "choking" Rebels.

  6. This game was turning out to be nearly as bad as last year's Illinois debacle. It was a terrible game at the worst time. 1st half, I don't think I have ever seen such terrible, slow, unfocused defense in any UNLV game I have ever watched. Colorado could seemingly walk the ball up to the basket and take any shot they felt they wanted. Backdoor cuts all day too.

    In any case, I enjoyed the overall season, and thanks for the memories in the big games this year. Good luck to the seniors and I look forward for next season.

  7. Teach5, yea that was it blame it on the "high elevation" and not the poor performance that the Rebels have shown the last half of the season... That's a good one. Bravo on the weak excuse.

  8. Nice season, Rebels! Can't wait for next year.

    Go UNLV, go rebels, go Las Vegas!

  9. To all you bitter fans posting: you know you are showing a lot of emotion in something you care nothing about. Or is it you are showing extreme emotion because you do care. I mean you take all this time to post your frustrations, yet season ticket holders have already moved on to looking forward to a kick butt team next year. You might as well exert that energy to something positive. Yeah it sucks, but it could be worse, we could be DUKE!