As the regular season nears its end, UNLV basketball is down but not out

The Rebels all but lost the regular-season conference title on Saturday, but there’s still more to play for


Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV head coach Dave Rice looks at the score of their game against New Mexico during the second half Saturday, Feb. 18, 2012 at The Pit in Albuquerque, N.M. New Mexico won 65-45 to take sole possession of first place in the Mountain West.

UNLV loses at The Pit

KSNV coverage of UNLV's road loss at conference rival New Mexico, Feb. 18, 2012.

UNLV @ New Mexico

New Mexico fans storm the court after defeating UNLV 65-45 to take sole possession of first place in the Mountain West Saturday, Feb. 18, 2012 at The Pit in Albuquerque. Launch slideshow »

As each missed shot fell harmlessly toward the court at New Mexico on Saturday, UNLV fell further and further from a goal it has talked about all year.

With four games to play, the Rebels are tied with San Diego State at two games behind the Lobos. A conference race that a week ago was shaping up to be one of the most exciting in the country is now all but over.

“We think that the deck is probably stacked against us a little bit, but stranger things have happened in this conference,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said.

It’s not impossible, sure, but take a look at New Mexico’s remaining schedule: at Colorado State, at TCU, Air Force and Boise State. It’s hard to imagine the Lobos, who have won their last seven games by an average of nearly 21 points per game, going worse than 3-1 in that stretch. Even if they falter, though, the Rebels have to take care of business in order to take advantage.

“As a team, we can’t worry about what they’re doing,” UNLV junior guard Anthony Marshall said.

New Mexico (22-4, 8-2) has found its stride at the perfect time, and after a week that included top-15 victories against No. 11 UNLV (22-6, 6-4) and No. 13 San Diego State (20-6, 6-4), it figures to vault into the rankings. Meanwhile, its victims, who are on a combined five-game losing streak, will likely fall to the 21-25 range.

In one week, the Mountain West’s top three teams have passed each other like cars going the opposite way down a street. However, they will all end up at the same destination.

For all of the panic after UNLV’s 1-3 record in the last week and a half, the Rebels are still an NCAA Tournament team. The difference now, says Sports Illustrated college basketball writer Andy Glockner, is just the way they will be viewed.

Last week, UNLV was moving toward a possible No. 3 seed. Two more road losses have tempered that and given the national audience an even clearer picture that the Rebels are a different team outside of Las Vegas.

“When the committee is presented a resume where every loss is on the road and every road win looks very difficult, I think they’re going to get dinged for that,” Glockner said.

Still, it’s not the freefall to the 8-9 game that many fans are fearing. On Sunday, Glockner hadn’t yet put together his bracket for, but said he didn’t anticipate moving UNLV any lower than a No. 5 seed. The Rebels’ victories against North Carolina and Pac-12 co-leading California still hold weight. And while Illinois’ current 1-8 stretch in the Big Ten has minimized that victory a bit, the Illini still have three games against ranked opponents, which could in turn help UNLV.

And the Rebels have a few more chances to help themselves, too.

Including the Mountain West tournament, UNLV could potentially play seven more games, six of them at the Thomas & Mack Center. The one road game in that mix is Feb. 29 at Colorado State.

Considering that most of the Rebels’ problems, and all of their losses, have come on the road, it’s not inconceivable that they could get almost everything that they’ve lost this week.

“The onus will be on them at home to succeed in the conference tournament,” Glockner said. “If they do win three games there, you’re talking about a seven-game winning streak to end the season. They could be right back where they were before this two-game losing streak, but it’s going to take some work for them to get there.”

UNLV will put on blinders and hope that New Mexico stumbles, but realistically the Rebels lost the regular-season conference title on Saturday. But that’s it.

The greater goals are still out there waiting for UNLV to take them.

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  1. Damn Skippy!...ESPN Coaches Poll still top 20.

  2. After spending the weekend pissed off, time to look ahead. We obviously should beat Boise, AF and Wyo at home. I keep thinking that the law of averages say that we have to play at least one good game on the road in conference and low and behold we have a rather important one at CSU coming up. Most important thing is that the Rebs rediscover their mojo this week. Hope the coaching staff gets us back to what we do best, run and create havoc. The more up and down the game is the more we can use our depth, get open looks for our shooters, and cover up our lack of a post game and half court offense. Not going to win conference but a 7 game winning streak going into the tourney might be enough to get us a 3-4 seed and some hope to see the second weekend.

  3. I think the Rebels are in good shape if they beat Colorado State on the road. They're a very good team at home (12-1) and they have a decent shot at making the NCAA Tournament.

  4. Bottom line: team has 3 senior starters- 2 are low mid major players (Bellfield and Massamba) and the other guy (Stanback) is no leader or gutsy player for that matter. Rice will do just fine when he starts getting his guys in- next year adding Reinhardt, Jones and Birch will be huge. Good days ahead- for this year- just another Kruger team- 8-9 seed and out quick.

  5. It's all about timing. I agree that Bellfield and Massamba are mid major players...Stanback I disagree on, he's hurt. But again, it's about timing. If they can hit a hot streak here at the end of the season and ride it into the postseason, we can have some fun in March. This is no Final Four team, but a Sweet 16 isn't out of the question. And I do believe that Coach Rice is going to have huge success recruiting and turn this into a Final Four team eventually. Good days ahead - yes! 8-9 seed and out - no. 4 or 5 seed and a win or two in the tourny this year!

  6. Let's go Rebels. Yes, we grumble a lot but we love our team. The next two home games should be outstanding Boise State and Air Force; we should do well against both in the T&M. The T&M is a tough venue for our opponents to play in and I hope we fill the T&M like we did against SDSU (that place was rocking). The road game against CSU will be telling in terms of how the Rebels are responding to any coaching changes and a test of heart. Then the season closes against Wyoming where we should also do well. I am looking forward to the Mt. West conference tournament and our placement in the NCAA. Let's go Rebels, get mean and finish the game the way you should -- 20 pt blowouts.

  7. This school doesn't even belong in the big dance. This team came out of the gate and looked better than it really was. Best case is they are eliminated in the round of 64.

  8. Nobody seems to believe in UNLV this year. well then, watch out everybody UNLV will surprise you all in the Big Dance.

  9. New Mexico just got slapped against CSU. UNLV should go 4-5 to end the season, comfortably...and will. Winning at CSU? Forget about it. They just beat SDSU and UNM so it's going to be too tall of a task. March madness is on the cusp, all sites neutral, single game elimination. Nuff said. 6 losses don't mean anything when march 15/16th rolls around. If unlv shoots hot from all over the floor and plays great defense, they can much where ever they want. Just as butler and vcu has done. Seriously better watch out for Wichita State. Those guys are elite 8/final four material.

  10. Another great quote from TeamSG1 from 1-16-12

    "Let the freefall begin. I will go out on a limb and predict that in 30 days from now, UNLV will be unranked and we won't have to keep reading articles about where a bunch of people THINK they stand."