Monday, Jan. 30, 2012 | 2 a.m.
- Mike Moser leads UNLV to its second consecutive overtime victory, 65-63 at Air Force
- UNLV’s Chace Stanback overcomes poor shooting to make game-winning steal
- BOX SCORE: UNLV 65, Air Force 63
- UNLV’s Mike Moser shakes off illness to carry Rebels to OT victory at Boise State
- UNLV notes: Carlos Lopez will be reevaluated for a sprained ankle
- BOX SCORE: UNLV 77, Boise State 72
- 2011-12 UNLV Men's Basketball Schedule
- All UNLV Men's Basketball Coverage
The UNLV basketball team’s three conference road trips have resulted in a last-second loss, two trips to overtime and countless skipped heart beats for coach Dave Rice.
Yet, through five games, No. 12 UNLV (20-3, 4-1) is exactly where it wants to be, in control of its conference destiny.
Thanks to San Diego State’s 77-60 loss at Colorado State earlier in the day, Saturday night’s 65-63 overtime victory at Air Force put the Rebels in a tie with the Aztecs (18-3, 4-1) atop the Mountain West.
The Rebels didn’t get there easily. This week they played two road games as double-digit favorites but were lucky to survive with wins.
After Wednesday’s 77-72 overtime victory at Boise State, the talk was about improving and making sure that the team was prepared to turnaround and perform better at Air Force. Saturday night, it was about relief.
“We know we always need to get better,” Rice said, “but we found ways to win two important games and now we’re back fighting for a conference title again.”
Sophomore forward Mike Moser averaged 22.5 points and 16.5 rebounds in the two games despite playing with flu-like symptoms that had him throwing up before the Boise State game and still feeling “terrible” at Air Force.
“Right now, it’s going to be, ‘We won,’ ” Moser said of the team’s feeling after the game. “But (Sunday) it’s going to be, ‘How do we stay out of situations like this?’ Just want to make it easier on ourselves so we don’t have to press for the last 10 minutes of every game.”
Both victories this week played out in an eerily similar fashion.
The Rebels started out hot and built double-digit leads before the home team’s counter punch erased the deficit and ignited the crowd. Moser led the attack with his 11th and 12th double-doubles of the season, UNLV had to make defensive stops on the final possession of each regulation just to force overtime and senior guard Oscar Bellfield hit crucial 3-pointers in both extra sessions.
With 10 minutes of extra basketball, foul trouble and injuries all impacting the team, several players logged heavy minutes over the two-game road trip. Bellfield (38.5 minutes per game), senior small forward Chace Stanback (38), Moser (36) and junior guard Justin Hawkins (33) all played at least six minutes more than their average time on the court.
That could be seen as a concern, but Rice sees it as one of the reasons that the Rebels were able to pull out both victories.
“The fact that we’re conditioned because we do play fast and we practice that way, I do think that it helps us down the stretch in games,” Rice said. “We just have another gear that we’re able to find.”
Of course, it would be nice if UNLV didn’t have to reach that gear so often.
“I’d like to be able to put my feet up and enjoy the last few minutes of the game,” Rice joked.
Against Boise State, the Rebels’ problem was falling in love with 3-pointers and then settling for deep, contested shots. At Air Force, it was first-half turnovers that kept them from leading at halftime. Also, the Falcons took their defensive plan straight from the game tape of UNLV’s 69-67 loss at San Diego State.
“Part of what they were giving up was wide-open 3s,” Rice said, “so at some point in time we’ve got to step up and make those shots.”
Stanback, the team’s leading scorer heading into the weekend, shot 1-for-10 from the field, including 0-for-5 behind the three-point line. The team finished 20-of-59 from deep for the week.
Overall shooting on the road has been a problem all year, but the Rebels continue to display the ability to step up in crunch time. That has made it possible for these games to be learning experiences instead of losses.
Not only is UNLV now atop the conference, but with losses by No. 2 Missouri, No. 5 Kansas and No. 9 Georgetown, the Rebels should definitely move up one spot and may even crack the top 10 on Monday.
That’s a distinction that would be hard to fathom if you only saw the Rebels play this week. But this was just one small, ugly but effective leg of their larger journey.
“We didn’t really play like a top 10 team this week, but we’re not at all at full strength right now,” Moser said. “I’m not healthy. It’s going to help getting Carlos back big time.
“Guys struggled this week, but when you can struggle like we did and then put the week behind you with two wins, you can’t complain too much.”