Wednesday, March 4, 2015 | 2 a.m.
It's a loaded show this week as Las Vegas Sun sports writers Ray Brewer and Taylor Bern get into UNLV's tribute to Tark, Tony Sanchez winning the offseason, guessing Stephen Zimmerman's decision and more.
A few months before playing his first game at UNLV, Jelan Kendrick said anything less than a national championship was unacceptable. While that’s still technically possible the better odds suggest Kendrick will finish his career without ever playing in the NCAA Tournament.
That’s clearly not what he had in mind, but entering Wednesday’s Senior Night at the Thomas & Mack Center Kendrick doesn’t seem like a man dwelling on what could have been.
“I look at the experience as a blessing,” said Kendrick, who attended Memphis, Ole Miss and Indian Hills Community College before playing two seasons at UNLV.
The Rebels’ final regular season home game tips off tonight at 8 against San Diego State. The game will air on CBS Sports Network.
The Aztecs (22-7, 12-4) are right where they expected to be, tied for first place and trying to make sure Saturday’s home loss to Boise State, which snapped a 29-game winning streak at Viejas Arena, doesn’t linger.
“We can’t have Boise State beat us twice,” SDSU coach Steve Fisher said. “They can’t create an attitude, disposition or effort that will permeate and not have us ready to play UNLV.”
Meanwhile, the Rebels (16-13, 7-9) are currently slotted for a play-in game next Wednesday in the Mountain West tournament, which means reaching the big tourney would require winning four games in four days. When the league has had play-in games, only one team — Boise State last season — made it to even the semifinals, let alone won the whole thing.
Beating those odds is what UNLV is still playing for, and to get there the Rebels will try to create some momentum with a big win on the night it honors Kendrick and senior guard Cody Doolin. A three-year starter at San Francisco, Doolin started his first senior season in 2013 with every intention of finishing his career as a Don until an incident at practice led him to leave the program.
Doolin had a job offer in Austin, Texas, but he decided to keep playing for one more season, and UNLV was the program that pursued him the most. Much like Kendrick the record isn’t what he had in mind, but Doolin is about halfway to a master’s degree in public administration and believes the Rebels might have some of their best basketball left to play.
“I’m a big believer in everything works out for the best and it has,” Doolin said. “… It’s something I definitely feel very proud of, to say that I played basketball at UNLV.”
Both players have heard their share of criticism for their roles in UNLV’s middling record, but there’s been a lot of good, too. Kendrick has always been one of the team’s better defenders and recently he’s been a steady hand running fast breaks with 22 assists to 10 turnovers over the last five games.
For the season, Doolin is averaging 31 minutes while starting every game and trails only freshman Pat McCaw in effective field-goal percentage at 53.4 percent. In conference games Doolin leads the Mountain West by a wide margin in assist-to-turnover ratio at 3.8.
The guy that Doolin last weekend sheepishly admitted was his favorite player on the team, McCaw, is tied for second at 2.2, and McCaw’s emergence is one of the things UNLV coach Dave Rice credits to Doolin outside of the box score.
“As well as he’s played this year I think the biggest impact he’s going to have is on the future of our program,” Rice said.
Doolin and Kendrick, who have played a combined three seasons at UNLV, were hoisted into leadership roles on this year’s team more from necessity than natural progression of a roster. Still, they tried to do what was asked of them on the court or in the locker room, and whether it’s McCaw and Doolin or Rashad Vaughn looking up to Kendrick they have some admirers on the roster and in the stands.
Doolin said his dad and some other family members would be at the game, while Kendrick, who’s on track to graduate at the end of the semester, said his family is waiting to make the trip for a day they all place more value on. The scores haven’t been what Kendrick had in mind, but through the ups and downs he has gained perspective.
“They’ll be here for graduation,” Kendrick said, “which is a lot more important than a basketball game.”