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UNLV Basketball:

Rebels’ uphill trek through league tourney starts today against Air Force

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UNLV forward Stephen Zimmerman Jr. (33) drives to the lane while bulling past Air Force center Zach Moer (41) during their game at the Thomas & Mack Center on Saturday, January 16, 2016.

When UNLV added former walk-on Bryan Glenn to the roster to add some depth, the Rebels faced a simple problem. Other than grabbing a uniform from any of the eight players who are either injured, ineligible or no longer in the program, on a day’s notice they didn’t have one for the newest Rebel before getting on a plane to San Diego.

So they looked around and reached a solution that serves as a microcosm of this bizarre season.

“We literally had to take a jersey off the mannequin in the lobby,” said UNLV interim coach Todd Simon. “That’s where we’re at.”

Part of the offseason improvements to the Mendenhall Center included a set of four headless mannequins, each wearing a different colored No. 31 uniform. On Monday, the red mannequin was still missing its jersey because that’s what Glenn, who last was on a UNLV roster in 2011-12, wore for his three minutes on the court at Viejas Arena.

You can’t make this stuff up, and even though the season could end literally any day now, you’d be a fool to say we’ve seen the end of it.

“It’s fairly insane,” Simon said. “… At some point, the guys have gone through enough.”

Simon is hoping they have one more decent run in them, though that has to start with figuring out exactly who “they” are right now. Senior guard Jerome Seagears (heel) is expected back, although that’s no guarantee, and the latest outlook isn’t encouraging for sophomore Dwayne Morgan (shoulder) or freshman Derrick Jones Jr. (eligibility).

After finishing in sixth place and losing the tiebreaker, No. 7 seed UNLV (17-14, 8-10) tips off against No. 10 seed Air Force (14-17, 5-13) at 1:30 p.m. today in the Thomas & Mack Center. The Rebels will likely have six scholarship players available, though the margin of error on that is probably plus or minus one.

Even getting just Seagears back would be big for the Rebels, who are 11.5-point favorites despite their depth problems and a 79-74 loss at Air Force three weeks ago.

“It’s a huge difference when you have that one more guy,” Simon said. “… Psychologically, you know there’s going to be some kind of rotation in play. Having even that sixth guy is a tremendous difference.”

Seagears dressed for Saturday’s 36-point loss at SDSU but never took off his warmups, instead spending his time as an extra coach at most breaks. Getting him back in the lineup would help shake off the feeling of that blowout, though second-team all-Mountain West pick Pat McCaw said the page had already been turned.

“There are still games to be played and there are still things we need to get done,” he said.

Air Force went 0-9 on the road in league play, including a 14-point loss Saturday at Colorado State to cap the regular season. The last time they were in this building the Falcons lost by 36, something that worked as motivation for coach Dave Pilipovich in the rematch at Clune Arena but does him little good here.

Only one team in Mountain West history has made it from the opening round to even Friday’s semifinals, so the odds are against these depleted Rebels pulling off a miracle run. But the beauty of the conference tournaments is that every team has a chance, and the one that’s a shell of the version that defeated both the Big Ten (Indiana) and Pac-12 (Oregon) regular-season champs this season.

“Everyone’s got a fresh start here, and it’s what we do with this fresh start that really matters,” Simon said.

And if something else goes wrong, well, there are still three more mannequins.

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

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