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Instant Analysis: Great effort, energy from fans not enough against talented SDSU

UNLV vs. SDSU - 2-12-11

UNLV forward Brice Massamba puts up a shot against San Diego State forward Malcolm Thomas during their game Saturday, February 12, 2011 at the Thomas & Mack Center. San Diego State won 63-57. Launch slideshow »

UNLV vs. San Diego State

KSNV Sports coverage of No. 6 SDSU's 63-57 victory over UNLV at the Thomas & Mack Center on Saturday evening.

The Rebel Room

SDSU POSTGAME: Rebels' struggles with Aztecs continue in 63-57 loss

The UNLV basketball team had sixth-ranked San Diego State on the ropes in the closing minutes at the Mack, but some puzzling late shot attempts doomed the Rebels in a 63-57 loss. At 18-7 overall and 6-5 in the Mountain West, is UNLV still NCAA tourney-bound? Ryan Greene, Ray Brewer and Case Keefer discuss, plus talk about how high 25-1 SDSU's ceiling really is.

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There is no way to sugarcoat it.

The UNLV basketball team is not better than San Diego State. Not last year. Not last month. Not Saturday in their own building.

While the Rebels put forth a great effort in erasing a double-digit second-half deficit and played with as much energy as they’ve had all season, they simply couldn’t get it done against the nation’s No. 6-ranked team in a 63-57 defeat.

Despite the UNLV athletic department doing everything imaginable to create a home-court advantage, the Rebels ultimately couldn’t match San Diego State’s athleticism and interior play in losing to the Aztecs for the sixth time in seven games.

Not even a recorded message from coaching legend Jerry Tarkanian during pregame introductions, white towels distributed to fans in the lower section to wave wildly during crucial moments, retiring a baseball legend’s jersey or the constant reminder during timeouts to cheer loudly could save the home team.

Not against San Diego State, or league rival BYU for that matter. Those are the elite teams in the Mountain West Conference, while UNLV has shown it’s in the middle tier. The Rebels are 0-5 against the league’s top three teams (Colorado State entered Saturday No. 3), dropping three of those games in the friendly confines of the Thomas & Mack Center.

Remember that fact in a few weeks when the league tournament rolls into Las Vegas. While the Rebels will have more fans in the seats, the support won’t equal that of the 17,000-plus scarlet and gray supporters from Saturday.

The adrenaline and emotion of playing on your home court is an advantage, but after both teams get into the flow of the game, talent eventually prevails. That is what happened earlier this winter against BYU when the Rebels led by double digits in the first half and lost by 12, and that is what happened Saturday against a San Diego State team that is as good as its national ranking.

In desperate search of a signature victory, UNLV came up just short. But it wasn’t because of a lack of effort — the players played as hard as they have all season.

They were aggressive, played with energy, challenged San Diego State’s bigger players and didn’t back down after trailing by as many as 11 points. That shows tremendous growth (remember the collapse against BYU?) and should give them confidence for later in the season.

In both of UNLV’s defeats to San Diego State (it fell on Jan. 12, 55-49), the Rebels were in the game until the end and could easily have won. While it’s not the marquee victory they were looking for, being a possession or two away from beating a top 10 team should be a consolation prize the Rebels happily accept.

That is especially true when Anthony Marshall and Chace Stanback, the Rebels’ top two players this year, combined for just 13 points. And, when the Rebels continued their awful 3-point shooting, only making 1 of 15 attempts.

At 18-7 overall and 6-5 in the league, the season is far from over. There likely will be another game against San Diego State or BYU (or both), and road games at Colorado State and New Mexico, to help improve UNLV’s stock for the NCAA Tournament.

If the Rebels bring a similar effort the rest of the way, they’ll be competitive. If they continue to make 6.7 percent of their 3-point attempts, they won’t.

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