Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017 | 6:33 p.m.
With eight minutes to play in UNR’s blowout win over UNLV on Saturday, reserve forward Leland King scored inside to push the Wolf Pack lead to 27 points. The nondescript basket was inconsequential, but the visitor’s bench area erupted as UNR players and personnel completely drowned out the home crowd at the Thomas & Mack Center.
When King scored again a minute later, the reaction was even more explosive. The whooping and hollering from the UNR players could be heard in the upper deck on the opposite side of the arena as the few UNLV fans in attendance silently made their way to the exits.
If there was one sequence in UNR’s 94-58 victory that encapsulated the state of this rivalry as it stands today, King’s personal cheering section was a good place to start. At that moment, UNLV had been beaten on the court (soundly, for the second time in two tries against UNR), the home crowd had been beaten into submission, and the fan base had been beaten into admitting (and accepting) that UNR is now the big brother in this in-state sibling rivalry.
Unlike Wednesday’s loss at Air Force, the Rebels didn’t quit in this game. They played hard, they played with heart and they played with pride. They just weren’t anywhere near good enough to play with UNR.
It was the Rebels’ ninth consecutive loss, and while first-place UNR gears up for a run at the NCAA tournament, last-place UNLV is going to spend the next two weeks playing out the string.
In the locker room after the game, Marvin Menzies gave it to his players straight.
“I didn’t yell and cuss and scream at them,” Menzies said. “I just told them the truth. The reality of the situation is, this transition has been tough. So we’ve got to define how we’re going to finish this thing.”
In all honesty, the Rebels’ season probably ended midway through the second half of this game, when UNR used hot shooting from guard Marcus Marshall (28 points, 8-of-10 3FGs) and forward Jordan Caroline (31 points, 12-of-16 FGs) to expand its lead to 24 points after a 15-2 run.
A few minutes later, while UNLV embarked on a scoring drought that lasted nearly six minutes, UNR ran off another 18 straight points — a streak that included King’s buckets — to turn the game into an historic rout.
When the two teams met in Reno on Feb. 8, UNR set a series record for margin of victory with a 104-77 win. On Saturday, just 17 days later, the Wolf Pack shattered that record by nine points.
Menzies said the Rebels were overwhelmed by UNR’s capacity to make shots and sustain intensity throughout the game.
“When you run up against the best player in the conference and he makes eight 3’s — and most of them were challenged — what are you going to do? You just pat him on the butt and send him down the court and say, ‘Good shot,’ and then get ready for the next possession. And then the guys come off the bench and they’re making shots, and it’s like the dam breaks on us and we’ve got to figure out how to plug it up while it’s flooding, and that’s tough to do.”
Sophomore forward Kris Clyburn (12 points) put on a brave face, but the epic nature of this latest loss is clearly having an adverse effect on the players.
“It’s kind of tough right now,” Clyburn said, “but we’re working on keeping a positive mindset throughout this whole process. Everybody loses. We’ve just got to keep our heads up and [move on to] the next possession.”
For UNLV (10-19, 3-13 MWC), moving on means playing the final two regular-season games (at home against Utah State on Wednesday and at Fresno State on Saturday) and trying for an improbable victory in the play-in round of the Mountain West tournament. Once that’s done with, it will be time to forget this year forever and begin preparing for the 2017-18 season. That could mean mass roster changes, and Menzies didn't dance around that topic.
"I haven’t experienced this too often in my career, especially not in rivalry games," Menzies said. "We’ll keep working at it. I know what we’re doing works, but it’s not working with this group."