Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Monday, Feb. 18, 2013 | 12:34 a.m.
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- UNLV 72, SAN DIEGO STATE 70
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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.
• “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.