"It was the best of times,it was the worst of times," Charles Dickens A Tale of Two Cities . So it is for the men's basketball team at the University of Nevada Las Vegas.
With three games to play before the Mountain West Conference Tournament at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas, the Rebels find themselves clearly right on the bubble for an invitation to the NCAA Tournament certainly better known as March Madness.
Just two short weeks ago these same Runnin' Rebels blew out the then 12th ranked BYU Cougars right out of the building. It was their 19th win with only four losses and I was thinking a four seed would be nice and a trip to the Sweet Sixteen looked like a pretty good bet here in gambling heaven.
Then that same roof caved in with a bang that could be heard all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Fifteenth ranked New Mexico came into town and in a game that had revenge written all over it, the Lobos beat back a late Rebels run and evened the score by repaying the Rebels back for their only loss to them at "The Pit".
From there the Rebels traveled to San Diego State who has owned UNLV over the Lon Kruger era despite the Rebels win at the T&M earlier this year. Last season the Aztecs beat UNLV three times sending the Rebels to the NIT. Needless to say the Rebels dropped their second game in a row and their next stop in Salt Lake City loomed large on the horizon.
If you follow this team as closely as I do you would know that the Rebels do not match up well with this Utah team. They have two guys who are at least 8' tall and after losing earlier in the season to the Runnin' Utes at home, Lon Kruger's plan was to give Matt Shaw more playing time in the middle.
Normally Shaw shares time with Darris Santee and Brice Massamba in the attempt to keep a fresh body in the middle to offset the height advantage many teams have against the Rebels. Matt Shaw is an excellent three-point shooter and that would have brought at least one of the Utes giants out to the perimeter to guard against the three-point shots.
During warm-ups, Shaw turned an ankle and was pronounced unable to play. With Derrick Jasper already sitting out with a knee injury, the Rebels rotation was in flux and once again they found themselves on the losing side of the scoreboard.
Frankly, because I write about the Rebels for the fun of it, I have to be honest and tell you as a fan, I was so upset about the loss I couldn't do my usual recap of the game. As expected nobody called me out on this, however the game had at least one amazing item.
Tre'Von Willis who is the heart and soul of this team put out his most impressive performance of his career to date. Having virtually no support from his teammates at all, Willis still managed a game high 32 points with a couple of steals, assists, and rebounds. He brought the Rebels back from a 12 point deficit to tie the game at 61 with less than two minutes to play.
It just wasn't enough however as the Rebels dropped their third straight game in February which certainly doesn't help one's resume going for the NCAA's.
Like Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and I give coach Lon Kruger a lot of credit for this, the Rebels limped home to face a team they should easily have handled, the Colorado State Rams.
That they did. With a shooting performance reminiscent of the BYU game the Rebels jumped off to an 18-2 start and never looked back. They shot 48 percent from the floor with an even better 50 percent from beyond the arc. They out-rebounded the Rams 33-28 and had a season high eight blocked shots.
The Rebels finally showed a balanced scoring attack, not totally relying upon Willis to lead the way. Freshman guard Anthony Marshall had his first college career double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Chase Stanback chipped in with 12 points including going 3-3 from beyond the arc. Willis also reached double figures along with Kendall Wallace who nailed 3-6 from three-point range.
With Matt Shaw still nursing his ankle injury, Brice Massamba had the best game of his career. In 25 minutes of play, Massamba had seven points, three rebounds and a career high five blocked shots. He will have to continue this type of performance while Shaw is out for the Rebels to make any noise in the Mountain West Tournament.
The remaining schedule is kind for the Rebels. They have two remaining home games with TCU and Wyoming and one on the road at the Air Force Academy. These are three very winnable games and they have become must wins for UNLV. If they do win all three they will finish the season at 23-7, and 11-5 in league play.
At this point they sit fourth in the conference standings and will likely remain there. Their probable first round opponent would be these same Colorado State Rams. That would be good, however right behind the Rams in the standings is none other than those Utah Runnin' Utes, the Rebels absolute worst nightmare.
Here's the way I see it. The Rebels still have a good chance to go dancing. They have to win out, and make the Mountain West Tournament final game. With their RPI under 40 and their quality wins over BYU, New Mexico, and Louisville I believe that would be enough to get in.
By the way we can thank the PAC-10 for that.
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