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July 30, 2014

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Ray Brewer: From the Pressbox

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Instant Analysis: Rebels continue late-season charge by rallying past Boise State for hard-fought win

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

From left, UNLV’s Demetris Morant, Anthony Marshall, Justin Hawkins and Bryce Dejena-Jones celebrate as they pull ahead of Boise State Tuesday, March 5, 2013 at the Thomas & Mack Center. UNLV won the game 68-64.

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UNLV guards Katin Reinhardt and Justin Hawkins walk towards their free throw line after Hawkins picked up a steal and was fouled in the closing seconds of their game against Boise State Tuesday, March 5, 2013 at the Thomas & Mack Center. UNLV won the game 68-64.

UNLV vs. Boise State: March 5, 2013

Hey Reb walks off with UNLV guard Katin Reinhardt after the Rebels knocked off Boise State 68-64 Tuesday, March 5, 2013 at the Thomas & Mack Center. Launch slideshow »

The UNLV basketball team didn’t take its first lead Tuesday against visiting Boise State until 17 minutes remained in the game. It lasted less than one minute.

Mind you, that was the first time the Rebels led the Broncos in a game this season. Earlier this year, UNLV trailed from start to finish in a five-point loss at Boise State.

Tonight, the Rebels fell behind by seven points early and trailed by as many as 11 in the first half, but was able to scratch and claw its way to a hard-fought 68-64 victory.

Rebel fans, go ahead and exhale. That was a close one.

While it wasn’t easy and the Rebels clearly weren’t at their best, they won for the fifth straight time in continuing the late-season charge.

It was a good win because Boise State is a team fighting for its NCAA Tournament life, and more important, because the Rebels simply don’t match up well against a Broncos squad with capable long-range shooters at four positions.

When Boise State led by double-digits in the first half, it had made 5-of-8 attempts on 3-pointers. And when the Broncos looked like they were going to pull off the upset late in the second half, Jeff Elorriaga drained a pair of nothing-but-net 3-pointers that made it pretty silent at the Thomas & Mack Center.

Yes, classify this as a good win. Just as good as victories against San Diego State, New Mexico and Colorado State.

You could easily argue UNLV wouldn’t have been able to overcome its deficit against Boise State earlier in the season. But the Rebels did prevail in showing they’ve matured and could produce a similar result in other meaningful March games.

The early second-half lead lasted for less than one minute before Boise State continued its solid play to extend its lead back to 10 points. Then, the Rebels closed like the more-talented team they are, using several clutch baskets from team leader Anthony Marshall in the final four minutes and not flinching when faced with the adversity of a closely contested game. (The local product Marshall was downright brilliant with 16 points and seven assists, with no turnovers and missing just one shot.)

If anything, the Rebels now have the confidence they can overcome a large deficit in a game when they aren’t playing well.

Here are some more observations from the game:

Is UNLV peaking at the right time?: The Rebels have gone from underachieving in January and early February to playing their best basketball of the season in the home stretch of the season. They have won six of their last seven games and sit at a very respectable 23-7 overall. If they beat Fresno State Saturday, they’ll finish second in a Mountain West Conference that will likely send four teams to the NCAA Tournament. I won’t complain if you say the Rebels are peaking at the right time. I also won’t complain if you say this solid play could be contagious and a table-setter for an enjoyable March. But let’s not exaggerate. First, even with match-up problems against Boise State, there is no way UNLV should have been this challenged against a team not equal in talent. Also, with the Rebels’ top-heavy league schedule of road games at New Mexico, San Diego State and Colorado State in three of the initial four Mountain West games, we knew wins would come later in the season against lesser competition. And, despite seemingly solving the road woes with double-digit wins at Wyoming and UNR in the last two away games, remember both those teams were depleted and hardly a challenge. Yes, the Rebels are playing better. But don’t get overly optimistic just yet.

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UNLV guard Justin Hawkins sails in for a dunk against Boise State Tuesday, March 5, 2013 at the Thomas & Mack Center. UNLV won the game 68-64.

Justin Hawkins’ struggles: You have to feel bad for Justin Hawkins. The senior guard is playing the worst basketball of his life in the final weeks of his UNLV career. Against Boise State, he missed two easy layups, airballed a 3-pointer and finished with just four points on 1 of 6 shooting. He has scored just 44 points in 15 Mountain West Conference games, and only 16 points in the last nine games. In early February, he went 0-for-11 in going scoreless in three straight games. Hawkins continues to receive playing time because he’s the best UNLV defender — which was confirmed with two steals against Boise State that led to fast breaks. Unfortunately for Hawkins, he missed virtually uncontested layups after both steals. The best part about slumps is busting out of them. Here’s hoping that happens sooner than later for J-Hawk. After all, he’s been a great Rebel — a true good guy and ambassador in the community — the past four years. And, if he can’t become consistent offensively, he’ll continue to be a team player when his minutes decrease. He showed what a team player he is in the final seconds against Boise State, passing to an open Katin Reinhardt with 16.7 remaining for the game-sealing 3-pointer. He didn’t want the glory of making a clutch shot. He wanted the glory of winning the game, feeding it to Reinhardt for his third 3-pointer of the half. On Boise State’s ensuing possession, he game up with a steal. Then, he made a pair of free throws after being fouled. Maybe that slump is over.

Ray Brewer can be reached at 990-2662 or [email protected]. Follow Ray on Twitter at twitter.com/raybrewer21.

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