UNLV-Northern Iowa: Big Dance Ends Early for Runnin' Rebels

Richard MarshSenior Analyst IMarch 19, 2010

OKLAHOMA CITY - MARCH 18:  Head coach Lon Kruger of the UNLV Rebels reacts against the Northern Iowa Panthers during the first round of the 2010 NCAA men's basketball tournament at Ford Center on March 18, 2010 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Tre'Von Willis, junior forward and UNLV's team leader, put it best:

“Losing in the first round is a little disappointing. But overall, we had a good season. We’re definitely going to have our good days ahead of us.”

That is exactly what this Rebels fan and reporter will focus on within the scope of this report.

Yes, surely the 69-66 loss to a very good Northern Iowa team was disappointing. And yes, there were enough flaws in the Rebels' performance that the outcome was anticipated early enough in the game, when the Runnin' Rebels jumped out to an eight-point lead, despite some very erratic shooting, and couldn't continue the onslaught.

Let's give the Northern Iowa Panthers credit.

They played a very smart defensive game, which is their signature, and when it came down to the last 11 seconds in a tie game with no timeouts remaining, they were able to find an open man 26 feet from the basket. Ali Farokhmanesh—try saying that name five times fast—simply fired away to put the Panthers up by three.

The Rebels then got two tries to tie the game with 4.9 seconds left. After the inbounds pass, the ball was knocked away from Oscar Bellfield, going out of bounds leaving the Rebels with 1.6 seconds left. They were never able to get off the shot when time expired.

So ends the 2009-2010 season for UNLV.

This year, just like for the entire Mountain West Conference, was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Runnin' Rebels. They lost three key seniors, including a four-year starter and one of the most exciting players I have ever seen step out on Jerry Tarkanian Court. That, of course, was Wink Adams, who will always be one of my top five Runnin' Rebels of all time.

With Wink gone, as well as Joe Darger and Rene Rougeau, this Rebel team was made up of underclassmen and junior college transfers, trying, under the able leadership of coach Lon Kruger, to blend into a well-run machine capable of causing havoc on the defensive side of the ball.

Their overall record of 25-9 speaks volumes of their success. Their two wins over BYU, their victory over New Mexico, as well as defeating Arizona and Louisville, are a tribute to the fine job Kruger has done. With most UNLV home games being close to sellout crowds at the Thomas and Mack center, Kruger has pumped the life back into this town's love for Jerry Tarkanian's legendary teams.

The future is extremely bright for the Rebels for the 2010-2011 campaign. They bring back their starting five, as well as their key players off the bench. This year's freshman class of Anthony Marshall and Justin Hawkins will only get better, and they will still be backups for Tre'Von Willis and Oscar Bellfield.

With a healthy Derrick Jasper back in the lineup and an excellent recruiting class, plus a couple of redshirts from this year, things are definitely looking up for the Rebels.

The emergence of Chace Stanback and Matt Shaw, along with the stellar play of Willis plus the ever improving Brice Massamba, will make the UNLV a force to be reckoned with, not only in the Mountain West Conference but also nationally as they continue on their path to return to the elite of men's college basketball.

I will continue to cover the two remaining teams from the MWC (BYU and New Mexico) throughout the NCAA Tournament and wish them success. Now that the entire country has witnessed the amazing Jimmer Fredette, let's hope for a Sweet 16 or more from our two remaining teams. This has been a great year for the Mountain West Conference, and it will only be getting better in the years to come.

The time has arrived in both football and basketball for the Mountain West Conference to be part of the BCS and be recognized nationally as a major conference.