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MWC Tournament:

The Rebels try to collect themselves after dropping a classic semifinal battle with New Mexico

Junior guard Anthony Marshall accepts the blame, as usual, and UNLV awaits its NCAA Tournament draw after a 72-67 loss

Mountain West Conference Tournament - UNLV v. New Mexico

Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV guard Anthony Marshall buries his face as time expires in their Mountain West Conference tournament semifinal game against New Mexico Friday, March 9, 2012. New Mexico won 72-67 and will face San Diego State in the championship game.

MWC Tournament Semis - UNLV v New Mexico

UNLV guard Anthony Marshall heads off the court after their Mountain West Conference tournament semifinal game against New Mexico  Friday, March 9, 2012 at the Thomas & Mack Center. New Mexico won 72-67 and will face San Diego State in the championship game. Launch slideshow »

UNLV vs. New Mexico

KSNV coverage of the UNLV Rebels playing against the New Mexico Lobos, March 9, 2012.

The Rebel Room

Rebels knocked out by New Mexico

Las Vegas Sun reporters Taylor Bern and Ray Brewer talk about the UNLV basketball team's 72-67 loss to New Mexico in the Mountain West Conference tournament semifinals and take their best guess at where the Rebels will be seeded for next week's NCAA Tournament.

Anthony Marshall stayed on the court a little longer than the other Rebels. In what has essentially become a post-loss ritual, Marshall watched New Mexico and its fans smiling and laughing, congratulating each other on a victory, this time in his arena. Then Marshall walked toward the tunnel and placed a Gatorade towel over his head as he marched up the ramp, another disappointment filed away for later use.

The Rebels (26-8) came up short in Friday night’s Mountain West semifinal against the Lobos (26-6), falling 72-67 in an instant-classic-type grudge match. The reasons for the defeat could be found in any number of places — the Rebels were out-rebounded 41-25 and out-shot 52 percent to 35.6 — but Marshall placed the blame firmly on himself, as he always does.

The game was tied at 64 with less than two minutes to play, and from there Marshall missed a free throw that could have tied it again at 66, missed a crazy shot in the lane with UNLV down three and missed a dunk that wasted five precious seconds before he recovered and drew a foul.

Those are the plays that Marshall will remember as UNLV awaits its NCAA Tournament seeding, not his team-leading 19 points or 10-for-12 shooting at the free-throw line.

“I felt like I had the opportunity to make some things happen … I really feel like it’s my responsibility to step up,” Marshall said. “I’m a leader of this team and I put it on my shoulders.”

New Mexico forward Drew Gordon was fantastic again, recording 19 points and 13 rebounds to lead the Lobos, who also got 15 points from Tony Snell and 12 from Demetrius Walker, who has been a huge lift off the bench for them of late.

For the Rebels, Chace Stanback hit the first shot of the game and then scored just four points the rest of the way. Sophomore forward Mike Moser scored 11 on 5-of-15 shooting but more importantly grabbed only three rebounds. And senior center Brice Massamba, who picked up that slack with nine rebounds and six points, fouled out with 1:35 to go and the score tied, which forced Carlos Lopez into a tough situation.

If Massamba stays in, maybe things go differently, but picking out every minor ebb and flow of a game in March will spin you in circles.

“That’s the nature of tournament games,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said.

This game couldn’t have been further from last month’s disaster at the Pit. That matchup featured similar statistical differences between the teams, but it was a runaway 20-point New Mexico victory. This time around both teams played with a fire and passion that only comes around in March, though that comes as no consolation.

“We don’t play for moral victories, a loss is a loss to us any way you look at it, whether that’s losing by 20 or losing by five,” Marshall said.

The environment at the Thomas & Mack Center was befitting of a game played with so much emotion. The crowd was a fairly even split of fans cheering for UNLV and a large contingent of Lobos fans who made the trip. Moser tweeted afterward that he felt like he was in New Mexico, a sentiment shared by many on Twitter during the game.

Whether or not you thought more Rebels fans should have been in attendance, there’s no denying that the fans who were there combined to make a memorable atmosphere. And Saturday’s tournament final between New Mexico and San Diego State promises to be another electrifying game.

So once again, the Rebels will have to watch someone else cut down their nets at the Mack while they watch and wonder what comes next. The seeding for all four potential tournament teams from the Mountain West could change based on the Aztecs-Lobos outcome and scores around other conference tournaments, but as of this publishing the Rebels look to be in the 6-7 range.

Where they end up wasn’t nearly as important to Rice Friday night as reminding his team what lay ahead. A couple of NCAA Tournament wins and this is all forgotten.

“There’s still so much to play for,” Rice said. “We don’t have to go to sleep (Friday) worrying about whether we’re in the NCAA Tournament or not.”

Marshall echoed that sentiment. They’re still playing, which is more than most teams can say this time of year.

There’s still at least one more chance to take that post-loss pain and turn it into something better.

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

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