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September 2, 2015

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Ray Brewer: From the Pressbox

ray brewer:

Debating whether UNLV should continue series with San Diego State

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Sam Morris

UNLV forward Mike Moser greets fans after the Rebels’ 65-63 win over San Diego State on Saturday, Feb. 11, 2012.

Rebels edge San Diego State

Rebels scrape by conference foe San Diego State, 65-63.

UNLV vs. SDSU - Feb. 11, 2012

This is a three photo sequence of UNLV forward Mike Moser dunking on San Diego State forward Garrett Green during their Mountain West Conference game Saturday, Feb. 11, 2012 at the Thomas & Mack Center. UNLV won the game 65-63. Launch slideshow »

Thanks for the memories, San Diego State.

That’s the response every UNLV official should be familiar with when asked about continuing the basketball series with the Aztecs. Thanks, but no thanks. With San Diego State leaving the Mountain West Conference after the 2013 season for the Big East in football and Big West in basketball and other sports, the crazy atmosphere for the Rebels' dramatic 65-63 victory Saturday shouldn't be enough to save the series.

Don’t get me wrong. The energy inside the Thomas & Mack Center for Saturday’s game — pregame tailgating, loud and engaged fans, an awesome halftime tribute to the 1987 Final Four team, and even the long bathroom lines — resembled a Saturday afternoon home game during the glory years. It was clearly the place to be in Las Vegas, a town with plenty of Saturday options, with the game selling out midweek.

Let’s just evoke the 48-hour rule and take a look at the long-term benefits of keeping the San Diego State relationship alive. While Saturday’s game was everything you want in a college basketball contest, it’s a series that’s not beneficial for UNLV after the Aztecs leave the league. The Rebels would have nothing to gain by that.

San Diego State always has a hard time scheduling, playing non-conference games this year against Chicago State, Elon, Redlands and San Diego Christian. Add Big West league games against the likes of Pacific, UC Irvine and UC Riverside to the equation, and San Diego State’s RPI will be awful. So a loss to the Aztecs -- something the Rebels have done in nine of the last 11 meetings -- wouldn’t exactly help UNLV’s seeding causes come March.

It’s a rivalry created by the fact the schools are both elite in the Mountain West Conference. There is no history. And, despite a five-hour drive separating two towns and downright amazing games the past few seasons, there will never be any significant history.

It’s not like Missouri leaving the Big 12 for the SEC, and Kansas having to decide whether or not to continue the rivalry, which is one the most storied games in college basketball.

UNLV, which travels to North Carolina next year for a non-league game, should be more interested in scheduling opponents from respected leagues. San Diego State will remain a quality opponent the next few years, but UNLV shouldn’t do the Aztecs — a program they often recruit against — any favors by giving them a marquee game on the schedule.

Again, Saturday was great. The loudest the Mack has been in years. But it’s time to say good-bye to San Diego State. It’s a marriage with no long-term future.

Thanks for the memories, San Diego State.

Here are some observations from Saturday's game.

Justin Hawkins’ clutch, clutch play(s) : Justin Hawkins deserves credit for this victory in a game UNLV was fortunate to win. Ok, lucky is probably a better term. Hawkins’ steal near midcourt as time was running down and San Diego State was pushing the ball up the court eyeing the winning points, shows what a great player he’s become. UNLV was desperate for someone to make a play late, and when each of his teammates seemingly failed to seal the game, Hawkins took matters into his own hands. First, with UNLV holding a slim one-point lead and less than 10 seconds remaining, he grabbed an offensive rebound after a Chace Stanback free throw miss to preserve the lead. He was fouled, making the first free throw and missing the second. However, he atoned for the miss with the game-ending steal. He finished with four points and two steals, but you can’t measure great defense by looking at numbers in the box score. Hawkins is UNLV’s best defender. The improvements he’s made from his freshman year to his junior year are simply amazing. He’s become an important part of the rotation.

Oscar’s great game : When Oscar Bellfield went up for what turned out being a monster one-handed dunk late in the first half, I assumed he was simply going to attempt a layup. I didn’t realize he had such great jumping ability, dunking the ball with a chasing defender in pursuit for a block. Bellfield displayed his often-overlooked athleticism with solid play. While Mike Moser, Chace Stanback and Anthony Marshall have had great seasons, it’s the contributions from Bellfield that make the Rebels dangerous. The senior has been a full-time starter for a majority of his career and has the experience needed to lead his team to victories in March. Saturday, he was at his best. He finished with 15 points, six assists and just one turnover, doing a little bit of everything — hitting 3-pointers, perfectly directing the offense and playing great defense on the perimeter. It was vintage Oscar.

Retire No. 13 : The halftime tribute to the 1987 Final Four team was the icing on the cake for a great afternoon of Rebel basketball. Being in the arena while the team was honored surely brought back fond memories for several with former players and coaches in attendance receiving loud applause. However, the ceremony should have included one announcement. It’s time for UNLV to retire Freddie Banks' No. 13 jersey. He’s one of the best five players in school history and it’s a shame his jersey isn’t hanging next to his good friend Armen ‘The Hammer’ Gilliam’s No. 35.

Ray Brewer can be reached at 990-2662 or ray.brewer@lasvegassun.com. Follow Ray on Twitter at twitter.com/raybrewer21.

CORRECTION: The story initially had San Diego State leaving the Mountain West Conference after this season. The Aztecs won't change to the Big West Conference until after the 2013 season. | (February 13, 2012)

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