Analysis:

UNLV Extras: Saturday’s victory was basketball entertainment at its best

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV forward Anthony Bennett reacts after a dunk on San Diego State during their game Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013. UNLV won the game 72-70 to sweep the regular season series.

UNLV vs. SDSU: Feb. 16, 2013

UNLV forward Khem Birch celebrates as guard Justin Hawkins takes the ball while San Diego State guard Jamaal Franklin reacts to being called for travelling during San Diego Stat'e final possession Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013 at the Thomas & Mack. UNLV won the game 72-70. Launch slideshow »

The best thing about Saturday’s UNLV-San Diego State game was just how fun it was to be one of the nearly 19,000 people in the building to witness it.

A sellout at the Thomas & Mack Center is listed at 18,577, but throw in all the media, facilities employees and, of course, the teams and you get an even greater number. While the end was obviously good only for UNLV fans, the entire game had me leaning in closer and on the edge of my seat.

It was full of moments both bizarre — Justin Hawkins inadvertently running over Aztecs coach Steve Fisher; Anthony Bennett getting stuffed by the rim twice on once possession — and truly great — Chase Tapley’s 3 to cut the margin to one with 20 seconds left; Khem Birch’s defense.

Had San Diego State not backed out of its decision to leave for the Big East (wisely, in my opinion) this would have been the last guaranteed regular-season meeting between the teams. And that would have been a loss for all of us who were in that building and watching across the country.

A game of runs

Here’s the CliffsNotes version of how this 72-70 Rebels victory played out:

SDSU took a lead with J.J. O’Brien attacking Bennett; however, the Aztecs lost point guard James Rahon to a shoulder sprain before the first media timeout. UNLV pulled even in the second half because of Bennett, but the big 14-0 run that changed the momentum was a complete team effort. Five Rebels scored during that stretch, including a free throw from point guard Anthony Marshall, who was 0-for-8 from the field.

UNLV backed off the gas near the end, something UNLV coach Dave Rice attributed to fatigue, and Tapley single-handedly pulled the Aztecs back, scoring 10 points in the final four minutes. UNLV held on and won, really, because of its defense.

The biggest regret from the end of the game, at least if you’re an Aztecs fan, was that Tapley didn’t touch the ball at the end. As great as UNLV played in the second half, it still botched the ending and allowed the Aztecs to have the ball down only one.

After Tapley sank a big 3, O’Brien tied up Bryce Dejean-Jones under the basket, and this is where the absurdity of the alternating possession came into play. Most coaches would prefer to jump the ball like they do in the NBA, but that’s an argument for another day. The one for today is that as great as Jamaal Franklin can be, he needs to understand when someone has a better shot.

“Yeah, of course I wanted the ball in my hands,” Tapley said of the final possession, “but knowing Jamaal and the competitor that he is, having the ball in his hands is like having the ball in my hands.”

Not exactly. The Rebels made a great halftime defensive adjustment on O’Brien, mostly putting Birch on him instead of Bennett. And UNLV dared Franklin to beat them with jumpers or drives to the left, two things you’ll give up while loading up on his drives to the right. Franklin didn’t adjust, instead driving right into the defense on the final play, which he didn’t think was a traveling violation.

“No, it was the same move I was doing the whole game, but I can’t make that judgment,” Franklin said. “The ref called the call, and that’s it. I can’t bring it back and rewind it.”

However, the Rebels didn’t have an answer late in the game for Tapley. If UNLV had needed a shot at the end of the game, it would have been crazy not to go to Bennett or Birch. Not getting the ball to Tapley was the same level of error.

Odds and ends

• A lot of people, including the rather passionate fans to my left, were yelling at Fisher to stay off the court after Hawkins ran into him in the second half. Although they have a point, one of the refs came over to the TV guys near me and said the officials felt Fisher was OK because there’s not a lot of room on the sidelines.

In this case, if the refs are fine with it, so am I.

Click to enlarge photo

UNLV guard Anthony Marshall pulls himself back over the scorer's table after chasing a loose ball during their game against San Diego State Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013. UNLV won the game 72-70 to sweep the regular season series.

• “Anthony Bennett’s capable of doing anything when he puts his mind to it,” Rice said.

This, kind of like the effort plays (such as Marshall flipping over the scorer's table to save a ball) and overall solid defense in the second half, is one of those things that are all the more noticeable when they're absent. Bennett was a determined man in the second half, hitting three shots in the first two minutes and knocking down his fourth, a third consecutive 3-pointer, with 12:38 remaining.

That 3 was the first shot of UNLV’s 14-0 run, and after making it, Bennett seemed to be upset that it had taken nearly six minutes to get him another shot. And he has a point. When someone, especially your best player, is in a zone, just keep feeding him until he cools off.

Why, though, is that type of fire and performance missing from the bulk of UNLV’s games away from home?

“I don’t even know myself,” Bennett said.

• Franklin sounded like he was thinking as much about the refs as his own shot on the final drive.

“I tried to get to the rack to get the ref to call the foul, but, I don’t know, I haven’t been getting a lot of fouls I normally do lately,” Franklin said. “I just have to adjust and play a different game.”

Although Fisher didn’t have a problem with his leading scorer taking the final shot instead of Tapley, he did wish Franklin wouldn’t have waited so long to make his move.

“I wish Jamaal would have attacked the rim quicker, but he didn’t,” Fisher said.

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

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  1. What Franklin is really trying to say is, "I don't understand why the refs aren't buying my flops anymore." I think there's been a lot of complaining league wide about Franklin's antics and the refs are looking at it more closely. I mean, AB drops a shoulder in his chest and you would have thought Franklin got punched in the face by the way he jerked his head back.

    Franklin shouldn't be so hung up on the travel call... if they didn't call the travel, Birch would have gotten credit for 6 blocks in the game. SDSU players have nightmares of Birch swatting their shots. I remembered thinking last year when Franklin hit the game winner against us @SDSU (and he travelled on that one too) that if Birch were playing, he would have sent that shot into the stands. One year later, similar situation and Birch was all over Franklin's shot (even after the travel call).

  2. The reason Bennett doesn't get the ball is because Marshall always wants to finish the plays. He has a shooting guard mentality. Bennett probably sets 20 picks for Marshall each game. Out of that 20, Marshall will only give up 3 or 4 of those balls a game. When Bennett posts-up, Marshall is not persistent enough to get him the ball. Lastly, Marshall backing down other guards in the post is bad offense. Even though he will have success once in a while, the other players end up standing around doing nothing but watching stagnating the offense.

  3. Much ado about nothing, the Rebel season is embarrasing at best, I see no sold out season tickets next season. Dave Rice has let the fans down in his coaching skills. Just a so so season ,,, again. I quit going to the games and will not watch them on TV either , Rice is an unqualified head coach and it's painful to watch the Rebels fail like that.

  4. @fedup2here (Kenny Rogers) - You couldn't set a better example of what it means to be a fair weather fan.

  5. Yes, indeed, a very entertaining game. It's fun to watch Moser. He's operating at maybe 80% and is trying so hard. Wish Bennett would follow his example.

    Bennett has the raw materials for a star but does he have the drive?

    I DVR every game and watch it again, isolating Bennett, just watching what he does on the court. He takes so many plays off, is out of position on many others and pouts regularly.

    When he has the ball in his hands he lights up but when he doesn't, he really doesn't know where he should be.

    Watch his picks. He gets BEHIND the guy he is supposed to pick instead of to the side so the ball-handler can rub the guy off. Worst picks I have ever seen.

    Watch his box-outs. Well, you can try but you won't see many. He is so freakin' athletic he thinks he can just get the rebound and doesn't bother to box. He gets some rebounds but against discliplined--yet less physically talented players (i.e. CSU, AFA)--HE gets boxed out and doesn't come close to grabbing the 'bound.

    His D is weak, too. It's like he never had to learn the basics since he was so much bigger and stronger than others out there.

    I was listening to C. & C. on sports talk radio the other day saying how everyone in town has turned on Bennett. I don't think that's exactly correct. I think many of us see a guy who could be great yet isn't getting better. In fact, due to the opposition's scouting, he's regressing.

    I think many of us thought the coaching staff would mold him into a super stud and that Augmon would turn this guy into at least a decent defensive player if not a very good one.

    Hasn't happened. That's why people are down about Bennett--not down ON him--is that he has the potential for greatness and hasn't gotten close.

    Yeah, a few 3-pointers out of him were nice against the Aztecs but that simply obscures his flaws, all of which are fixable if he has the drive and if the coaching staff would work, work, work him on rudimentary things he seems to have skipped over in his early years.

  6. Credit: Bern for writing some great stuff - love the style and variation of articles. @phillips for pointing out the truth, and AmLowLife for good analysis.

    Players should take full responsibility. Anything less will not net results. They should play this game over and over and compare it to BS and AF efforts, and always replicate the SDSU effort. If we fall, fall as warriors, and the fan base will be much more satisfied - and so will the players themselves.

    THIS IS NOT A COACHING PROBLEM, imo. Anybody that believes the coaches are satisfied with low effort levels are simply infatuated with listening to themselves complain!

  7. I have the incompetent ticket sales staff to thank for missing the entire season--and every season in the future also. I attempted to purchase tickets in person twice very late in the summer and the kids they have running the ticket sales have no clue what is going on and can't sell me a ticket. I had a list of questions like "how much are tickets?" "can i choose my own seat?" and "when can i buy tickets?" ---etc.... the answer to every question is "I DON'T KNOW", "I DON'T KNOW", "I DON'T KNOW". When prompted for a supervisor you get the same answer "I don't know" and similar bs. How can you run a huge operation like this and not have a professional staff. I was there with money ready to buy before the season started and was treated like i was trying to buy super bowl tickets and was out of line for asking questions. I was told "just give us your credit card and we will take a $100 deposit and let you know later what seats you got" WHAT--Thank you sales staff from saving me money and time watching this mediocre product and mediocre coaching staff--Im betting one and done with my money....good luck! you wil not get my support ever again (im one of those people that never comes back after getting jerked off)!

  8. Great perspective. A very fun game to attend, and I'm glad SDSU is staying in the MWC. Games against SDSU, Reno and even New Mexico during the conference tourney when their excellent fans come out, are a treat. As much as they're loathed, I wish BYU were around as well.

    I, too, once squawked about why Bennett didn't go as hard as you'd hope, but honestly, dude is miles ahead of everyone else on the court. Trying to hone skills like his at the collegiate level, is like trying to sharpen a blade on a wet sponge. Now I just thank him for stopping by and look forward to watching him learn and grow in the NBA.

    Can't completely put away the Haterade when it comes to Anthony Marshall, though. He vastly overrates himself and plays out of control and out of his element as a result. Won't miss him, and neither will the team, when he graduates. Dave Rice would never admit it, but I'd bet a root beer that he feels the same way.

  9. Comment removed by moderator. ALL CAPS

  10. fedup2here...
    Rain rain go away, I'll come support my team when the rain goes away... la de da, la de da.

    See you in a decade or two. Rice isn't goin' anywhere, and for good reason. Sorry you won't be there to enjoy the imperfect ride.

  11. Dave Rice is the 2nd best performing coach at this point in UNLV History, next to one Jerry Tarkanian.

    Good luck finding better company than that!

  12. @fedup2here (Kenny Rogers) - I might as well reply to your post before it gets deleted for violating the comments policy. A fair weather fan is one who only supports the team when they think they are good. You don't think they're a good team, and you've quit watching by your own admission. Therefore, you're not a true fan. A true fan supports a team in good times and bad.

    On a side note, I saw a comment from one of the true fans who got good season tickets this year by supporting the team and going to the games during the down years.

  13. Constructive criticism is valuable, but I see little of that coming from the tireless haters who often comment here. (Especially in all-caps comments.) Good luck with the rest of the season, Rebels!

  14. The Refs should have been calling the travel all game. Franklin's footwork, and the rest of the Aztecs for that matter, isn't that great. Lots of shuffling, you woulda thought EDC was already back in town.