Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Monday, March 18, 2013 | 2 a.m.
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The brackets are out and the Las Vegas Sun sports team is here to discuss UNLV's draw as the 5-seed in San Jose, Calif., and a rematch with Cal.
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- All UNLV men's basketball coverage
- NCAA Tournament bracket
- All the Sun's NCAA Tournament coverage
Not to take anything away from the accomplishment of making four straight NCAA Tournaments, but UNLV seniors Justin Hawkins and Anthony Marshall still have more to achieve.
There is still one, or two or three or more, games to win, starting Thursday when the fifth-seeded Rebels take on Cal in year’s tournament. It’s the last chance to add an exclamation mark to what they’ve already done, becoming the first UNLV players since Stacey Augmon and Chris Jeter more than 20 years ago to make four straight tournaments.
Don’t get me wrong, having a big hand in helping UNLV go from the NCAA Tournament bubble each March to a sure-thing lock for the tournament is commendable. They’ve been two mainstays in rebirth of the program and will be praised for their efforts for years to come.
But, even if you ask Hawkins and Marshall, they will say the accomplishment is a bit tainted. Making the tournament is one thing; winning games — and not just one — is another.
Not only have the Rebels failed to win a game on their watch, they’ve played miserably the past two years in lopsided defeats. Remember the train wreck two years ago against Illinois or last year's loss to Colorado? Both games were essentially over by halftime.
The underachieving could end Thursday.
They won’t be timid when the bright lights of college sport’s biggest event shine. They won’t become tense with the game on the line or rattled when Cal goes on a scoring run.
More important, they should be able to tell if something isn’t right — whatever was broken the past two years when UNLV’s performance, in all honesty, was embarrassing and not an indication of the quality team they are.
Yes, this is a quality team and one of the better programs in all of college basketball.
The proof was obvious Sunday: The No. 5 seed is the best the Rebels have received since being a No. 1 seed during the Final Four year of 1991. That’s a big indication of the respect UNLV has nationally.
In total, they’ve played in six of the past seven tournaments — a pretty impressive streak considering the mess the program became in the two decades since the Rebels made regular tournament appearances.
“It’s a big deal for those two guys to be the first two since Stacey Augmon and Chris Jeter to go to four consecutive NCAA Tournaments,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said. “That is a lot of years. It probably makes me sound old that I was there at that time, but that is 22 years since that has happened. It shows we are making great progress in our program.”
The progress could be disputed by some. Well, unless Hawkins and Marshall really leave a lasting impression by helping the Rebels go on a tournament run.
After all, if it doesn’t happen, they’ll unfortunately be remembered for making and losing in four straight tournaments. That’s much different that what Augmon and Jeter did during their trips.