Saturday, March 13, 2010 | 6:23 p.m.
After all, everyone who was in the Thomas & Mack Center last night for the Rebels thrilling semifinal victory against BYU was surely drained.
Fortunately for the Rebels, their 55-45 loss to the Aztecs won’t keep them out of next week’s NCAA Tournament. While the disappointment of being upset in the title game surely stings, it is definitely not the end of the season.
It is simply a roadblock that can be erased with a pair of victories next week in a more meaningful tournament.
If anything, the loss will serve as a valuable wake-up call. The Rebels have to come ready to play every night, and whatever the circumstance, the players need to find that extra motivation to push through.
Playing in the NCAA Tournament is a rare experience — a lifelong dream for several players. The Rebels need to come ready to play like they did in their last-second victory against BYU, and not like today, when they were seemingly stuck in neutral all night.
It’s hard to duplicate on consecutive days the brand of intensity that helped the Rebels win a back-and-forth battle with BYU.
Still, the lackluster and sluggish performance, especially in the first half where the Rebels only shot 32-percent and didn’t score in the game’s initial six minutes, came as a surprise. UNLV had looked so impressive in winning its previous six games that the hangover from the BYU slugfest wasn’t expected.
San Diego State, which had a thrilling victory Friday in its semifinal win against New Mexico, also failed to match the intensity from the previous day. But the Aztecs did what they needed to do late in the game to cap its run of three wins in three days to earn the league’s automatic berth in the NCAAs.
And holding usually high-powered UNLV to 45 points was impressive.
Several of us were guilty of expecting too much from this game. After a pair of thrilling semifinal games yesterday, it was easily assumed the excitement would carry over into the championship game. Both teams, however, were running on fumes.
While the game didn’t feature as much of the up-tempo style of play as yesterday's semifinal contests, it still included a tight finish that had fans on the edge of their seats.
It’s the drama that makes March such a special month for college basketball. And as UNLV learned in its last two games, the thrill of victory or agony of defeat is always one shot or lackluster performance away.
Fortunately, UNLV will have one more opportunity to experience the thrill again.