Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Wednesday, March 14, 2012 | 7:30 p.m.
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Las Vegas Sun reporters Taylor Bern and Ray Brewer take a look at the UNLV basketball team's opening round opponent in the NCAA Tournament — Pac-12 tournament champions Colorado.
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ALBUQUERQUE — At halftime in Tulsa, Okla., down 22 to Illinois in what would soon become his second consecutive Round of 64 exit from the NCAA Tournament, Anthony Marshall made a stand.
“I’m one of the more vocal leaders, so I told them, ‘If you don’t want to play for yourself, go out there and do it for the people who came all the way out here to see us play. People calling off of jobs and missing money that could be going to their families, but they’d rather come out and watch us play and support us,’ ” Marshall said.
The Rebels touched down in Albuquerque on Tuesday night for a chance to truly put that game in the past with a win against 11-seed Colorado on Thursday night at 7 on truTV (Cox cable channel 54).
The atmosphere in the locker room on Wednesday afternoon was very light, with card games and smiles dominating the mood. Asked about their focus this time around, Marshall said he’s out to make sure they don’t have the same problems as last year.
“We’re not star-struck by all of the things that are going on,” Marshall said. "We’re really locked in right now.”
Sophomore forward Mike Moser wasn’t on that trip last year. He said he likes that his teammates have the NCAA Tournament experience that he can rely on in his first trip. But trips to the dance are different than winning once you get there, and that’s where Moser could make the difference.
His matchup with Colorado’s Andre Roberson may be the highlight of the game. Roberson, a 6-foot-7 sophomore forward, averages 11.6 points and 11.1 rebounds per game.
“He believes every loose ball is his,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said of Roberson.
UNLV will also have to deal with leading scorer Carlon Brown, a transfer from Utah who may have ended up in Las Vegas if not for senior guard Kendall Wallace.
“I was recruited by UNLV, and before I took my visit Kendall Wallace took the last scholarship,” Brown said. “I probably would have ended up there, but that’s old news.”
In the Pac-12 tournament, Brown averaged 15.8 points on 50 percent shooting from the floor. Colorado’s season would’ve ended if it had lost, so Brown’s numbers are even more impressive considering the pressure.
“This is going to be a long, competitive game. Colorado’s tough,” Rice said. “You don’t win four games in four days if you’re not tough. We need to be tougher.”
Last year, UNLV eventually lost to Illinois 73-62, a sour ending to a season that closed with more questions than answers down the stretch. In the second half of that final game, the Rebels tried to fight back and chip away at the deficit, but they dug their grave in the opening minutes when Illinois went on a 32-8 run. By that point, the feeling that this was the end was too hard to overcome.
“You try to avoid that feeling as much as you can, but everybody’s human and feels that way sometimes,” Wallace said.
Wallace is a senior this time around, as are Brice Massamba, Chace Stanback and Oscar Bellfield. A bad start Thursday could end their careers, the latter three without ever having won a tournament game at UNLV. The key to preventing that is within themselves.
The Rebels are the better team, playing in a familiar arena in front of what will likely be a slightly pro-UNLV crowd. That’s all great, but it will come down to turning their desire to make this year different into execution on the court.
Marshall wants it just as much as anybody.
“It’s burning me up inside,” Marshall said. “I want to get that monkey off our back and get a win for the community.”