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August 28, 2015

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Ray Brewer: From the Pressbox

ray brewer:

Instant Analysis: A win is a win, but this was sure ugly

Rebels make just 5-of-17 foul shots in the second half, are lucky to escape with victory against Air Force

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV forward Mike Moser dunks on Air Force during the first half of their game Saturday, Jan. 12, 2013 at the Thomas & Mack.

UNLV vs. Air Force: Jan. 12, 2013

UNLV forward Mike Moser dunks on Air Force during the first half of their game Saturday, Jan. 12, 2013 at the Thomas & Mack. Launch slideshow »

Missed foul shots, poor shot selection and playing with little confidence.

That pretty much sums up the UNLV basketball team when it's in a close game, especially the past two weeks. Saturday, the Rebels nearly sunk to a new low in a too-close-for-comfort 76-71 overtime victory against visiting Air Force. Yes, that Air Force. And at home.

The same UNLV team some pegged for a deep tournament run at the beginning of the season was lucky to beat one of the Mountain West Conference’s lower-tier teams. Simply unacceptable.

The Rebels led by as many as eight points against pesky Air Force, but couldn’t get out of their own way down the stretch in following a similar script as Wednesday’s loss at New Mexico.

Late in the game, the Rebels struggle to rebound or get a loose ball, they can’t get organized offensively and they play like they are afraid to lose.

Coming up short at defending Mountain West champ New Mexico, which has arguably the best home court advantage in the league, is nothing to hang your head about. Nearly losing at home to Air Force — well, that’s a black eye.

UNLV made just 18-of-31 fouls shot, including several crucial misses late in the game, and wasted several offensive possessions late in the game with bad passes and a lack of organization. This stat perfectly describes the mess at the end of the game: The Rebels were just 5-of-17 from the foul line in the second half.

The good news — of course, there is a silver lining — is that we are still in January. Last year, they also struggled in similar fashion, but that was at the end of the year in what equaled a premature end to the season.

There is still plenty of basketball left to play and quality teams to beat. Make no doubt about it, UNLV has the talented players to equal the preseason hype. It’s just a matter of getting those pieces in the right spot and playing as a cohesive unit.

That’s what makes this game a good thing. Ugly or not, it will go down as a victory in the win column, and gives the coaching staff plenty of game film. The first adjustment has to be figuring out how to attack the zone defense — Air Force, like every team who plays zone against the Rebels, thrived when it went to the zone. Late in the second half when attacking the zone, UNLV nearly went seven minutes without a field goal, including a pair of airball shots on 3-pointers.

This team is too talented to not have a successful season. It's not a bad team. Like most clubs in early January, it's a work in progress.

And, let’s remember: Air Force gives several teams fits with its slow and deliberate offense, and ability to hit the 3-point shot. UNLV let the Falcons hang around way too long. Against a team with the talent of New Mexico, that was a formula for disaster.

Tonight, UNLV was able to pull out the victory. No style points, but a victory nonetheless.

Vintage Mike Moser:

Welcome back, Mike.

Not only did Mike Moser return to the UNLV basketball team’s starting lineup Saturday for its victory against Air Force, the 6-foot-8 junior forward also showed flashes of the dominating play from last year when he carried the Rebels on his back during their hot start to become a solid NBA prospect.

He scored eight points in the initial eight minutes against Air Force, finishing with 14 points and 11 rebounds in 40 minutes — the most he’s played since dislocating his elbow Dec. 9 at Cal.

For a UNLV team struggling to find its rhythm and identity offensively, and clearly playing with little confidence in yet another ugly performance, the contributions from Moser were desperately needed. They helped disguise struggles against an Air Force team UNLV was expected to easily handle.

After missing six games, and playing sparingly off the bench in defeats Dec. 29 at North Carolina and Wednesday at New Mexico, Moser appears to be back at full strength.

Talk about perfect timing.

Moser’s an elite rebounder and often starts the fast break after grabbing a board. He’s athletic, quick in transition in beating his defender down the court. He's a solid defender and a great passer. Moser plays with high energy and presents a matchup nightmare for the opposition because of his length on the wing. Moser, who contemplated turning professional before returning for his junior season, moved from power forward to the wing with hopes of improving his draft stock.

Saturday, he showed glimpses of that pro-potential.

With the exception of a protective shooting sleeve on his arm, you couldn’t tell he was returning from an injury. With about seven minutes to play in the first half, Moser aggressively attacked the basket in drawing a foul. The next time down the court, he nailed an open jumper.

There was no hesitation.

A healthy Moser makes the Rebels a more complete team because of his inside-out versatility. That gives more offensive chances to the Rebels’ other players, especially freshman standout Anthony Bennett who is constantly double-teamed in the post.

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

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