UNLV basketball:

Rebels wallop injured Falcons to advance to MWC semifinals

Air Force’s Michael Lyons went down early and Anthony Bennett took full advantage, setting up a showdown with Colorado State

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV forward Anthony Bennett dunks on Air Force during their Mountain West Conference Tournament game Wednesday, March 13, 2013 at the Thomas & Mack. UNLV won 72-56 and will face the winner of the Fresno State vs. Colorado State on Friday.

Updated Wednesday, March 13, 2013 | 5:40 p.m.

MWC Tournament: UNLV vs. Air Force

UNLV's Mike Moser yells after teammate Bryce Dejan-Jones drew an Air Force foul during their Mountain West Conference Tournament game Wednesday, March 13, 2013 at the Thomas & Mack. Launch slideshow »

No Rebel is going to apologize for the way they advanced to the Mountain West tournament semifinals on Wednesday, especially after the way Anthony Bennett found his groove and dominated offensively in the second half. Injuries are just part of the game, though rarely do they effectively end the contest less than two minutes in as Michael Lyons’ sprained right knee did in UNLV’s 72-56 quarterfinal victory against Air Force at the Thomas & Mack Center.

“As he goes, we go,” said Falcons coach Dave Pilipovich.

And boy did they go. After turning the ball over near midcourt, Lyons bumped his knee against UNLV’s Bryce Dejean-Jones. The latter swooped in for a layup while Lyons stayed down on the court. He had to be helped up the ramp back to Air Force’s locker room, and once he was gone, there was no helping the Falcons, who would also lose starting center Taylor Broekhuis after the big man took multiple shots to the head.

“Obviously it wasn’t a game that we anticipated or prepped for,” Pilipovich said.

That’s true for the Rebels, too. They never anticipated it being that easy. Now the team's in a semifinal at 8:30 p.m. Friday against Colorado State, which fended off Fresno State. The Rams played without point guard Dorian Green (ankle), and they will likely be without him again against UNLV.

Air Force was arguably the better team in both previous matchups this year and blew UNLV away in the last meeting at Clune Arena. But without Lyons and Broekhuis, the offense looked lost, unable to connect on passes to guys cutting to the basket. In the first half, the Falcons committed 13 turnovers and went more than eight minutes without a point while UNLV built a comfortable lead that was never threatened.

“It all started with defense,” said UNLV’s Anthony Marshall, who finished with 11 points.

UNLV deserves credit for guarding the backdoor cuts much better and making life difficult for Air Force, but that probably wasn’t as difficult to overcome as it was to adjust to life without two starters while multiple bench players also hobbled off with various ailments.

The way the Rebels played, they were likely going to win no matter who the Falcons threw out there. Bennett started the game well before asking to come out. In the second half, he was breathing a lot easier and doing whatever he wanted to the Falcons’ defense.

Bennett scored eight points in the first four minutes with two 3s and a short jumper. After that, he did most of his work in the paint, flushing three dunks and finishing with 23 points and seven rebounds. His 10-for-14 shooting is a new league tournament record for field goal percentage (71.4) for a freshman.

“I was going out there doing the best I can,” Bennett said.

The league’s Freshman of the Year played without a wrap on his left shoulder, which he said felt “pretty good,” and changed his shoes at halftime, a surprisingly frequent occurrence on the current roster. His performance had more to do with the Falcons’ struggling defense than his new shoes, though fans would probably prefer he keep going with the same pair.

Bennett had by far the highest volume of UNLV highlights, but Dejean-Jones took home the top prize with a baseline drive and dunk. He finished with 12 points and five assists to no turnovers, and Mike Moser had nine points and 10 rebounds.

This was the first time Moser and Bennett started together since January, a pairing that worked well as UNLV played defense with all five guys switching off screens.

“Coach said we were starting together and we both had big smiles on our face,” Moser said. “We love playing together.”

Rice said that lineup only works because Defensive Player of the Year Khem Birch is OK coming off the bench if that’s what the team needs. Birch scored eight points on 4-of-4 shooting with four rebounds and three blocks in 19 minutes.

This victory presents the same problems in terms of drawing conclusions as the recent road win at Wyoming. That Cowboys squad was a shell of itself without Leonard Washington and Luke Martinez, just like Air Force without its two starters. Again, that’s not something the Rebels have to apologize for, but it should temper the excitement the fan base would otherwise feel after a double-digit victory against a quality team.

The Rebels will likely face another depleted team as Colorado State coach Larry Eustachy said he was almost positive Green wouldn't be ready to play. Of course, the pressure is still on UNLV to take advantage and impose its will.

The Rebels did exactly that Wednesday afternoon. It’s a good result in their first March tournament game, even if it was much easier than anticipated.

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

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  1. Would not be surprised to see Green back against the Rebs. I am sure Coach Rice and staff are thinking the same thing. Kind of interesting how much the announcers praised Bennett for giving a good effort defensively. Illustrates how lazy he can normally be if when he gives a good effort people go out of their way to praise him. Also interesting that when he does go hard he gets gassed quickly. Should be in better shape by now. Hope he continues to play like that. No easy opponents from now on.

  2. I would have liked to seen Moser and Bennett 100% without injuries also all year. This Rebel team would have had more wins.

  3. Gumby- and just how does Bennett expect to play in 81 games in the NBA? This guy has Bust written all over him...

  4. Rose, is anything positive in your life? Anything? I am by no means a homer, and have been critical at times about UNLV's play, but you are tedious at best. The head in the sand Pollyana attitude of some of the UNLV homers is non-productive, since some sound criticial thinking is productive, however there never seems to be any of that from you, just constant negativity. If it is not how bad UNLV is, it is how bad some individual player is. Did you bet your house yesterday or was it all nonsense as usual? Injuries are part of betting so the excuse of Lyon's injury being the difference is a lame one. There is no way to know what the final score would have been but there can be little doubt UNLV would have won, the only question is if they covered.

  5. Everything I've seen is saying that Green will be out against UNLV on Friday. I think it is absolutely the right move by their coach to get him rested and healthy for the NCAA Tournament. Colorado State is not a particularly deep team, so they can't afford to lose anybody, especially Green, for the big tournament.

    That being said, UNLV has gotten very fortunate. I never like to see anyone injured, but as soon as Lyons went down, that game was not in doubt. Obviously CSU can still win without Green, but it certainly is a blow to their chances in the conference tournament.

  6. UNLV should beat Colorado State on Friday. They will be at less than full strength. Also, the Rebels have three guys in the frontcourt who can rebound versus two for Colorado State. The Rebels should be able to use their depth to their advantage. The Rebels might go a little bit deeper into the bench since they'll have to play Saturday if they win.

  7. I dont think Green plays tomorrow either. He was gimpy & limping when he got off the bench yesterday during the TOs. They're NCAA bound too so its not even remotely worth the risk. I kinda wish he was playing though...for our sake. Then I'd know we'll be 110% focused. Any time this team thinks they can exhale we stink it up. Although we did...ultimately... do a good job of finishing off a depleted AF team yesterday. See? Tell me this team isnt an enigma! We never know who is gonna show up! lol

    Great games tomorrow! Big time match ups. Lets hope the officiating rises to the level of play. The refs ticky tacked their way into wrecking/effecting 3 of the 4 games played yesterday. Key guys were fouling out or in foul trouble all day on BS incidental or shouldve been play on calls. I heard people from 4 different schools say pretty much the same thing: The officiating in this league is Terrible!