Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Saturday, March 9, 2013 | 5:15 p.m.
- Rebels saw warning signs and still couldn’t prevent loss to Fresno State
- BOX SCORE: Fresno State 61, UNLV 52
- Seniors Marshall and Hawkins have work left to do for their UNLV legacy
- Don’t forget to cheer loudly for Quintrell Thomas on Senior Day — he’s earned it
- UNLV Extras: More indications the Rebels are peaking at the right time
- Marshall leads UNLV to the finish line in resilient victory against Boise State
- Instant Analysis: Rebels continue late-season charge by rallying past Boise State for hard-fought win
- All UNLV men's basketball coverage
Before the disaster that was the UNLV basketball team’s second loss of the season to lowly Fresno State, a script read by the public address announcer during the Rebels’ Senior Day celebration raised a red flag.
When introducing Justin Hawkins and Anthony Marshall on Saturday at the Thomas & Mack Center for their final game, making four straight NCAA Tournaments was listed in each of their accomplishments. OK, I get it, the Rebels are 99.9 percent guaranteed to have their name called next Sunday.
It’s just a pair of defeats to 11-win Fresno State will surely be a gigantic black eye when the seeding gods huddle next weekend to piece together the bracket. The Rebels entered winning six of their past seven games, and five straight, working their way from the dreaded 8-9 line in seeding projections to a more manageable No. 4 to 6 seed.
Then, Fresno State came to town. And, in one of the uglier home defeats in UNLV history (yes, I wrote that), prevailed, 61-52.
The Rebels gave up way too many offensive rebounds, were ineffective offensively and got out-hustled by a team with little talent. UNLV entered 34-1 in its past 35 games at home and was a 15-point betting favorite — somehow Fresno State, not San Diego State or New Mexico, stopped the trend.
UNLV didn’t make a shot in the final 9 minutes, 52 seconds of the game. Again, UNLV didn’t make a shot in the final 9:52.
While the accomplishment of becoming the first UNLV players since Stacey Augmon and Chris Jeter from the back-to-back Final Four teams to make the tournament is nice, winning a game in the “Big Dance” would be a more significant accomplishment for Hawkins and Marshall. That’s why I thought the announcement is odd — the expectation at UNLV should be doing more than making the tournament.
To make that happen, the Rebels need to play a perfect game. The tournament is all about matchups, peaking at the right time, and in all honestly, luck. UNLV has proved in the defeats to Fresno State that it can’t overcome a team that plays its best or makes all of its shots.
It doesn’t matter that Fresno State made 8 of 12 of its 3-pointers in the first half; the Rebels got beat by a team they had no business losing to. What’s even more disappointing is how they were out of rhythm offensively and played with little urgency. Come on, 52 points at home. Against Fresno.
Everyone in the arena sensed UNLV would eventually pull away. (I even started writing about how they overcome adversity). Looks like the UNLV players had the same mindset, and in sports, that’s a formula for disaster.
The Rebels gave an underdog a glimmer of hope, and they paid for it. Dearly for it — the Rebels are back on that 8-9 seeding line. Ugh.
A 23-win regular season: When it is all said and done, the UNLV season won’t be judged by 23 wins, losses to Fresno State or great home wins against the Mountain West’s better teams. They’ll be solely judged on the postseason and how they survive and advance. If they Rebels can win next week’s Mountain West Conference tournament or advance to the second week of the NCAA Tournament, the season will still be considered a success. Yes, 23 wins is disappointing. It about three fewer than a team with this much talent is capable of. Right now, you can classify the season as one of underachieving. But it’s not over. There is much basketball left to play.
UNLV does it right on Senior Day: From a majority of fans wearing white to the crowd singing the national anthem and coach Dave Rice starting all three seniors, Saturday was an event Justin Hawkins, Anthony Marshall and Quintrell Thomas will surely cherish. It was a first-class ceremony by everyone involved. They also honored cheerleaders, members of the band and Jon "Jersey" Goldman — better known as the mascot, Hey Reb. Goldman received a framed No. 57 (UNLV, of course, opened in 1957) jersey and exchanged long hugs with school officials while uncontrollably crying. It was a good reminder of how important this basketball team is to our city. In good times and bad in Las Vegas, and there’s no secret our economy has struggled in recent years, the Rebels have been there to give us a reason to cheer. From the players, cheerleaders and Hey Reb, it’s a labor of love. Three cheers for UNLV honoring those students who are often lost in the shadow of the basketball players. It’s Scarlet. Gray. Every day. Well, except on Senior Day, which was a white-out game.