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Rebels eager to get revenge with New Mexico after surviving against Wyoming

Mike Moser was too much for the Cowboys, who made the game close during UNLV’s typical second-half lull


Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV forward Mike Moser shoots over the Wyoming defense during their Mountain West Conference Tournament game Thursday, March 8, 2012. UNLV won the game 56-48 and will face New Mexico in the semifinals.

MWC Tournament - UNLV v. Wyoming

UNLV guard Anthony Marshall pounds the floor during the second half of their Mountain West Conference Tournament game against Wyoming Thursday, March 8, 2012. UNLV won the game 56-48 and will face New Mexico in the semifinals. Launch slideshow »
The Rebel Room

Rebels get shot at revenge in Mountain West semifinals

Las Vegas Sun sports reporters Ray Brewer, Taylor Bern and Case Keefer look at UNLV's eight-point victory over Wyoming in the first round of the conference tournament. They also discuss whether UNLV is capable of living up to their status as a favorite in tomorrow's game against New Mexico.

Rebels defeat Wyoming

KSNV coverage of UNLV winning their first game of conference tournament, March 8, 2012.

Mike Moser, the man who single-handedly outscored Wyoming in the first half Thursday night, had to chuckle a little bit when asked about surrendering a big lead again.

Was he surprised? No. Frustrated? Sure. Did he expect it? Sort of. Does he have the answer? Not one better than you or I.

“It’s kind of our MO right now,” Moser said. “As much as we try to fight through it and keep playing, we’ve got to be prepared for stuff like that.”

No. 20 UNLV (26-7) advanced to Friday’s semifinals of the Mountain West tournament with a 56-48 victory against Wyoming that included three parts dominance and one part ‘Not again.’ That’s a familiar recipe, and it also resulted in a familiar result inside the Thomas & Mack Center. Their last four home games, including last Saturday’s tilt with the Cowboys have played out in similar fashion.

“We do take a lot of confidence in the fact that we’ve found a way to come back and make big plays at the end of games,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said.

Rice also pointed out that the Rebels may not have to worry about many double-digit leads the rest of the way. They take on second-seeded New Mexico Friday night at 8:30, and could play either San Diego State or Colorado State in the championship Saturday afternoon.

You can’t lose a double-digit lead that you never have. It may come up again, but considering New Mexico outscored UNLV 39-18 the last time they played a half of basketball, that’s a problem Rice would gladly accept.

He would also take another dominant performance from Moser, who showed why he was considered a leading contender for the conference player of the year before a four-game swoon ended those talks.

Nine minutes into an ugly first half, Moser went on his own 8-2 run, including a nifty coast-to-coast rebound and layup that was just as impressive as any single play he’s made this season. He finished the first half with 18 points and went on to record 22 points and 14 rebounds, his 15th double-double of the season.

Moser’s first basket of the second half didn’t come until the 2:50 mark, well after Wyoming woke up and tried to steal a victory.

Moser said that his offensive absence was due to a change in the offense that made him more of a decoy, which allowed players like Anthony Marshall and Oscar Bellfield, who became the all-time MWC assists leader, to step in and open up a 22-point lead. Rice said that’s partly right.

“I think the big part of it was that Wyoming changed the way they were guarding him,” Rice said. “One thing we’ve always done is we try to find the open man.”

And after torching them for 18 points in the first half, the Cowboys wouldn’t be doing their job if he had enough room to breathe, let alone get a shot.

Wyoming set tournament-record lows in the first half for points scored (11) and shooting percentage (.125). That was bound to get better, and it did, right about the time UNLV’s offense started to get into a lull. That familiar spot in the second half when an apparent UNLV rout turns into a competitive contest. On the road it turns into a loss (see: TCU). In the Mack, it just makes a lot of people uncomfortable.

“It was ‘Are we going to recognize it and put it to a halt?’ We cut it close, but we finally did,” Moser said. “Almost tricked it off again after we weathered the storm.”

Wyoming got as close as six thanks to a 14-1 run, but their comeback took too long and UNLV was able to put the game away with a couple of timely baskets and free throws. The Rebels won’t survive a stretch like that against New Mexico, but they also have some extra motivation going into that matchup. The second-half beatdown on Feb. 18 is very much at the forefront of their minds.

“We’ve had that bad taste in our mouth for a long time now,” Moser said. “Getting back on the court against them is definitely going to get our blood going.”

Marshall, who finished with eight points and 10 rebounds, said he has wanted to play the Lobos since the final buzzer sounded. The only question is what the Rebels are going to do to make things go their way this time around.

“New Mexico’s such an explosive team, we’ve got to go back and (study) them,” Rice said.

In their most recent matchup, Rice thought he had a matchup advantage with backup guard Reggie Smith against New Mexico’s Jamal Fenton, but Smith’s foul trouble limited that plan of attack. Smith hasn’t played the last two games — Rice said he wanted to keep the rotation at nine but hasn’t lost confidence in his sophomore — but that option is there if Rice wants to try to go that way again.

The biggest challenge is how to contain the biggest player, senior forward Drew Gordon. Maybe UNLV will use double teams or try to shut down everybody around Gordon. He went off for 27 points and 20 rebounds the last time against the Rebels, and they’re more aware of that than even their pattern of blowing second-half leads.

“The thing we do remember is that they put it on us at the Pit,” Rice said. “That part’s pretty fresh in our minds.”

Moser was less a decoy than a ghost in that game. He scored eight points, all early, then was a nonfactor.

He’s got an answer for that one. You saw it in the first half Thursday.

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

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  1. Wow. Looking at the picture above I hope the Rebels can get a better turnout from the fan base against New Mexico tonight. I don't live in Vegas but if I did I would be at the Mack rooting for the home team. Come on Rebel fans, better turnout tonight. It's Friday night and most people don't have to work tomorrow. Fill up the Mack.

  2. In the last 8 games UNLV has been outscored in the second half in 6 of those games by an average of over 11 ppg. In two of those games they managed to just score 18 points. They are averaging 66.75 ppg in regulation in these games. Our offense has really struggled. Last complete game we played was against New Mexico at UNLV in January. Hoping that somehow we break out of this rut but I am not counting on it. Lon Kruger may have left for Oklahoma but this offense and its struggles sure look familiar. The kids are playing hard but just really tough to watch the kind of ugly basketball we are playing.

  3. They better chomp hard and don't let go. Their shooting is woeful from the field and the charity stripe. They were shooting bricks in the second half. They blew a 22 point lead. Butt ugly in the second half! Their defense saved them from an embarassing first round exit.

  4. You've got to remember mj20, for the Mountain West Tournament the lower bowl of the T & M is reserved for the other teams in the conference. So those empty seats are SDSU, Colorado St, UNM, etc. fans who mostly left at halftime when the Rebels had the big lead. In fact, when the Rebels ran onto the court pregame for warmups there was a loud chorus of Boo's coming from the crowd. It was a little strange to hear the Rebels get boo's at the T & M, but it happens every year at the Tournament.

  5. I really hope Rice and co. either double team Gordon in the post or come up with another alternative because what we saw in NM was a joke.
    We surely can't afford the turnovers and terrible shot selection we had last night in the second half. Not today or any other game from here on out.

  6. Gumby2323, I agree with what you said. Even though the Rebels won their last few games of the season at home against AF, BSU, and Wyoming twice, none of the wins were pretty. After all the wins I think the Sun wrote articles describing the wins as ugly. They Rebs have been playing their worse ball as of late. Their last few wins have been really sloppy. Bad passes, too many passes when someone already has an open shot, bad shooting, turnovers, and weak rebounding. The Rebels really need to come out tonight and jump all over New Mexico early. NM is peaking at the right time, despite the two losses they suffered two weeks ago. UNLV and San Diego St both struggled a bit in their wins yesterday while NM won convicingly.

    Sportsarefun, thanks for clarifying. I don't live in Vegas anymore and have never been to a MWC tournament game, so I'm not clear on how the ticket sales go. Nevertheless, lets hope UNLV gets a good turnout tonight for the NM game.

  7. The game had the best defense of the season for a half, then complacency came in the 2nd half. I thought for sure Wyoming wouldn't be able to chip away, with that halftime lead and momentum, but they almost did. Shot selection was really key in that stretch when our guys weren't set up well enough and there was plenty of time on the clock. Even having one rebounder underneath can help.

  8. Also, with the attendance, there really isn't much excuse not to go to the games! They are always exciting to watch! I flew down last season just for the tournament, and you get your money's worth. The crowd can be the difference in a close game, it's not even a day game.

  9. Rebels lose by 10-15 points. They're aweful.

    I hope I'm wrong and that you all can come back here and say "that FastCamron guy was dead wrong" but....I really don't have any faith that this gutless team can put together enough positives to get a win against a team they blatantly gave up against last time out. Granted in was in New Mexico but that shouldn't be any reason to throw your hands up in this program.

    Can't wait to see you next season Bryce, Katin and Khem!

  10. Win Rebel's

  11. To mj20: The Rebels fans would have been there if there had not been a limit on the number of tickets! This is a Conference Game and every school got a certain number of tickets so if you couldn't scalp a ticket for $80.00 or didn't buy an all Session pass at $175.00 you couldn't be there.

  12. Big thing I've noticed in blowing these leads is that they all seem to be keyed by poor rebounding efforts and poor shot selection. The rebounding though is what stuck out to me last night. The Rebels stopped fighting for the ball and stopped blocking out. In that run that got WY back into the game there was 3 different trips down the court where the guy who shot the ball from WY and missed got the rebound, even when the defender was right in front of him when he shot it. What ever happend to putting a body on the guy and not letting him get by you? Especially on an outside shot.

  13. I agree fast cameron, the rebels are "awe" ful. Rehhhbuuullls!

  14. I feel like this game will be tougher than a potential championship match up with the Aztecs. New Mexico has handled their last three opponents by 15 pts or more. We need to jump out early and lockdown on defense.

    Go Rebs!