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UNLV basketball in the driver’s seat after an ugly but effective week

Two road games against overmatched opponents resulted in a pair of overtimes, but the most important thing is the Rebels got two wins


Associated Press

The UNLV bench celebrates the Rebels’ 65-63 overtime win at Air Force on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2012, at the Air Force Academy.

UNLV vs. Air Force

KSNV coverage of UNLV's overtime victory at Air Force, Jan. 28, 2012.

UNLV at Air Force, Jan. 28, 2012

UNLV players react from the bench during overtime of the Rebels' 65-63 win Saturday, Jan. 28, 2012, at Air Force. Launch slideshow »

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.”

Taylor Bern can be reached at 948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Taylor on Twitter at twitter.com/taylorbern.

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  1. "Just want to make it easier on ourselves so we don't have to press for the last 10 minutes of every game."

    It was the press that caused Air Force 8 more turnovers in the last 3.5 minutes of play, and kept us in the game. Where is the pressure defense the rest of the game? Maybe I'm just dreaming that we really did keep the Lon Kruger defense.

  2. We won. 2 W's and first place, who cares how we won.

  3. You mean that Lon Kruger pressure defense that Illinois chewed up and spit out...sure, that's exactly what we need.

  4. Well, the difference is, the GOOD teams know how to handle the pressure defense. Air Force clearly couldn't. 9 turnovers in 36.5 minutes of play, 8 more in 3.5 minutes WITH pressure defense. You tell me which defense we needed more of...

  5. I'm with Matt. The defense needs to up the intensity during the rest of the game. I think I read that Air Force had one FG attempt in overtime. ONE!!!! We upped the pressure in OT and they folded. What was encouraging was that in both games this week, when it was crunch time, our guys responded and did what they needed to do to win. That late-game, high pressure experience in hostile environments can only help us going forward.

  6. Luckily we were playing two of the MWC's less-talented teams. We would have lost to better teams in the league. If the Rebels pulled the crap they always seem to pull--fall in love with the outside shot, few points in the paint, circus shots, poor free-throw shooting, etc.--they would have lost at Wyo and CSU, two teams that are way better than BSU and AF.

    I'm actually very worried about this bunch--they won't be able to pull miracle finishes out of their butt all the time. Rice has to get them to play inside out rather than outside in.

    And what happened to the Runnin' Rebels feared fast break? I see it maybe twice a game now days. It isn't very fear inducing...

  7. AmLowLife,

    I disagree with your premise that we would lose at Wyo and CSU. Each game is an entity to itself. Look at the rest of the NCAAB scores from last week and you will see that top ranked reams fell like dominoes to teams they were supposed to crush.

    While I chewed down my fingers and did my share of screaming at the TV...... I'll take the win, move on and look forward to fighting another day.

  8. Conference games on the road are tough. You'd think Rebel fans would realize that. Even Tark's teams had their share of problems winning on the road in conference games, even against less than stellar competition.

  9. Tough games coming up.CSU looked good in the SDST beat down.We're 20-3, have National attention, and it's time to put the hammer down in the Mtn West. Coach Rice unveiled the ameoba zone defense from the 1990 playbook against A.F and it was effecctive for the 2-3 minutes it was in place.Pullout the man to man full court pressure,we have the athletes and coaching staff to suck the life out of the rest of the MTN West and instill respect and fear in the tourney.Go Rebels.

  10. While I certainly agree with everybody that the Rebels need to play better on the road in conference, I like the fact that there are people complaining after getting 2 road wins this week! Rebel teams of the recent past would have lost one or both of these games by playing subpar for a lot of the game, but this team was able to pull out a win both times. Despite the near heart attack they caused many of us, let's gladly take the two wins, chalk them up to a learning experience, and then be the Runnin' Rebels we know they are capable of the rest of the year!

  11. The Boise St and AF games probably had the opposing team scout really well for those games, and see what the other teams that have beat UNLV did. AF got hot from deep, like Wichita St did to us. Boise St kept our offense from getting much, but we stayed in it with the 3-ball and gutted it out in OT when Boise ran out of gas.

    What I'm most concerned about is the lack of free throw shooting percentage, and the 14-15 turnovers. Other teams know now not to run with UNLV, so they have been getting back. Gotta keep the pressure on to get them to get those turnovers. We have the depth to play hard defense the whole game like that, and I think that's going to be key in the future.

  12. There is no doubt that UNLV needed the wins against BSU and AF. I would agree that a win is a win, but the fact of the matter is that come tournament time every team invited is going to step up their game. UNLV indeed needs to step up offensively and especially defensively and cut down on stupid mistakes, for the challenges not only in conference play but come tournament time. Just imagine how good UNLV would be if they had a quality starting center, their weakest position. Start Carlos Lopez, with Quintrell Thomas as a backup, then and only then if needed bring in the cheerleader Brice Massamba (LOL) Hit those free throws, practice practice practice... I'm glad to see that Kendall Wallace has hit some 3's, I hope he regains his confidence.

  13. Turnovers are what are keeping the Rebels in close games with teams like BSU and AF. And really unforced turnovers at that. Take care of the turnovers, and yes the atrocious FT shooting- top 10 team, take care of them not, well, might be looking at a third place finish in league and a not-so-great-seed in the tourney.

  14. @HoosierBoy Massamba is a beast on defense, and has a pretty good game inside. He has earned the starting position because of how well he can take the opposing team's big men out of the equation. Take the Illinois game for example, or ... I don't know... NORTH CAROLINA.

    No doubt he needs to continue to shoot better from the line, but come on...He's clearly the best option in the post defensively.

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  16. Re-bels!

  17. Anthony Marshall was ineffective in the Boise State game and then he was pressing in the Air Force game. Clearly it shows how much the Rebels need him to play well. Stanback continued to shoot poorly on the road, another problem they had to overcome. Moser played extremely well, making up for the lack of scoring, while continuing to be a beast on the rebounding. The much maligned Oscar Bellfield was the reason the Rebels were able to go 2-0 this week, hitting big shots and controlling the games late. It was good to see him bounce back.

    Does anyone know why Reggie Smith is not seeing more playing time? He seems like he should be the first one off the bench when the Rebels need a spark or some quick offense. JHawk has been playing well, but I'm surprised Reggie is buried behind Wallace on the depth chart.