Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016 | 9:10 p.m.
Here are some observations from the UNLV basketball team’s 87-80 victory tonight against visiting Colorado State at the Thomas & Mack Center:
What the game means: In his post-game press conference after Wednesday’s ugly win against San Jose State, one of interim coach Todd Simon’s comments caught my attention. “We still believe,” he said. The Rebels nearly lost on their home court to one of the nation’s worst teams, and with a depleted roster and season of turmoil, that said a lot. The Rebels aren’t quitting. This team, the eight or so players who are left, showed that fight again tonight in beating Colorado State. Dwayne Morgan and Derrick Jones Jr., their only two post players, each had three fouls at halftime and were limited defensively in guarding the rim in the second half. But the Rebels still found a way to win. They played with energy and were the aggressor — traits not always expected with a middle-of-the-pack team. That “still believe” mentality could produce some excitement toward the end of the season. The Mountain West is an awful league, and with the exception of league-leading San Diego State, UNLV should be the betting favorite against every other team in the conference tournament. Sure, the remaining five games of the regular season are a chance to suffer a loss that signals throwing in the towel on the season. But it hasn’t happened yet. They are still fighting. They still believe.
Poyser breaks slump: Freshman Jalen Poyser must like playing against Colorado State. He scored in double figures for the first time in nine games with 19 points. His last double-figure effort came Jan. 6 at Colorado State, when he had 12 points. He had just 35 points in the past nine games entering tonight, including being held scoreless three times. This game should give him confidence moving forward to be a contributor. With eight regulars in the rotation, he will definitely get a chance. And, make no doubt about it, Poyser is a capable scorer, especially from the outside.
A look at the stat sheet: The Rebels committed 20 fouls, and when you only have eight players — including one walk-on — in the rotation, that’s a formula for disaster. But it is also tough to avoid. Both Morgan and Jones had three fouls at halftime but didn’t foul out. That’s a major victory for Morgan, who had five fouls in seven minutes a few weeks ago. ... Morgan is making the most of his extended playing time, finding scoring opportunities close to the basket. He finished with 13 points and eight rebounds. ... Pat McCaw fought through leg cramps for a solid 20-point, seven-rebound performance. ... The Rebels hit 5 of 10 of their 3-pointers in the second half, including back-to-back triples from Jerome Seagears and Ike Nwamu with less than five minutes to play to give UNLV a comfortable 13-point lead. ... Seagears, who had six steals against San Jose State, had another solid game with 11 points, five assists and three steals. ... The Rebels never trailed.
Up next: I’m not certain what to make of Tuesday’s game at Air Force. UNLV beat the Falcons 100-64 earlier this season, but that was when it was at full strength. Plus, the Rebels have just a 2-7 record in road games, and Colorado Springs, Colo., is one of the toughest road trips in the Mountain West. I expect a low-scoring, back-and-forth game not decided until the final minute.