Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Thursday, March 14, 2013 | 2:38 p.m.
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- BOX SCORE: UNLV 72, Air Force 56
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Dave Rice, UNLV basketball coach and amateur marketing director, knows how to sell an event.
His team’s victory about a half an hour old and the Rebels’ opponent still unknown, Rice sat behind a microphone in the Cox practice gym and drew up the storyboard like he was in a pitch meeting.
“Make it a commercial,” he said. “Friday night, those semifinal games in the Mountain West Conference, that's as good as it gets.”
“It’s electric,” Rice said a day later as his team prepared to practice for Colorado State, the Rebels’ foil in Friday’s second semifinal at the Thomas & Mack Center. Top-seeded New Mexico tips off against 4 seed San Diego State at 6 p.m. with UNLV’s 2 vs. 3 game scheduled to start at about 8:30 p.m. Both games are on CBS Sports Network.
The four top seeds all advanced through the quarterfinals, meaning the only teams left are playing for NCAA Tournament seeding, not a bid. For the Rebels, that range is anywhere from a 4 seed with two more victories to a 6 or 7 with a loss.
It may actually be difficult to move up in the selection committee’s eyes without a victory in the title game, because of the Rebels’ probable route there. On Wednesday, first-team all-Mountain West pick Michael Lyons, Air Force’s leading scorer, went down with a knee injury less than two minutes into the game. Plus, starting center Taylor Broekhuis (head) played only eight minutes as UNLV romped to a 72-56 victory. Now the Rebels will face a Rams team likely missing its point guard.
Second-team all-conference pick Dorian Green missed Colorado State’s 67-61 victory against Fresno State with an ankle injury suffered in the regular season finale against UNR. Green, who averages 13.1 points and 3.9 assists per game, had set a school record by starting in every game of his career, all 127 of them, until Wednesday. And after the game, CSU coach Larry Eustachy said he was “99.9 percent” sure Green wouldn’t play Friday.
Of course, anything is possible and the Rebels are prepping as if Green will play, but it’s far more likely they will face another team missing at least one of its key leaders. Those are the breaks, and so far they’re all falling in line for UNLV, which is in great position to reach its first conference tournament final since 2010.
“This is something that would be very special for our program,” Rice said of possibly cutting down the nets.
The only way to get to that game is to win the semifinal first. And as is always the case against the Rams, accomplishing that means making rebounding a top priority.
“It has to be when you play against the No. 1 rebounding team in the country,” Rice said.
The one thing Green’s probable absence shouldn’t affect too much is the Rams’ prolific rebounding, because he is never tasked with that responsibility. Neither is backup Jon Octeus.
In the teams’ last meeting, a 61-59 UNLV victory at the Mack on Feb. 20, the Rebels outrebounded Colorado State by two. That was the first time the Rams lost that category all season (Boise State would do it again March 2). The first time around, CSU held on for a home win thank largely to a couple of late rebounds.
“We easily could have won that first game, and we easily could have lost the second one,” Rice said.
Producing a third straight classic is asking a lot if Green is unable to go. While it’s difficult to quantify exactly what he means to the Rams, the most basic explanation is they’re better with him than without him. Both his production and leadership were big factors in the team’s second-place finish.
Only a healthy Green could make UNLV’s half of Friday night truly “as good as it gets.” But with a packed house and bids to Saturday’s final on the line, it’s definitely commercial-worthy.