It was the same old script for the UNLV Rebels in Friday night’s 72-67 loss to New Mexico in the semifinals of the Mountain West Tournament.
For the first four minutes, the Rebels (26-8) looked like the team that stunned then-No. 1 North Carolina back in November, jumping out to a 17-4 lead. But that electric start was followed by several periods of offensive ineptitude, including one five-minute stretch late in the first half where the Rebels didn’t score a point.
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The erratic play, along with the inside dominance of New Mexico power forward Drew Gordon (19 points, 13 rebounds), was too much for UNLV to overcome as the Rebels lost at the Thomas & Mack Center for the first time in 18 games this season.
It marked the fourth straight year that the Runnin’ Rebels failed to win the Mountain West Tournament and the second straight year UNLV didn’t advance to the championship game. New Mexico will face San Diego State, a 79-69 winner over Colorado State, in today’s 4 p.m. title contest.
“Basketball is a game of runs,” UNLV junior guard Anthony Marshall, who finished with a team-high 19 points, said. “They made a run, we made a run. It came down to the end like a lot of basketball games do. We just didn’t convert on a couple of plays toward the end and they got the win.”
“We gave it a good effort,” added forward Mike Moser, who had 11 points but grabbed just three rebounds. “We just didn’t make plays down the stretch. It’s a tough loss to a good team.”
Behind the play of Gordon and guards Tony Snell (15 points, six rebounds, six assists) and Demetrius Walker (12 points), New Mexico dominated inside and finished with a 30-18 edge in points in the paint. That was enough to help offset UNLV’s 26-2 advantage in points off turnovers. The Lobos also out-shot the Rebels from the floor by a wide margin, 52.0 percent to 35.6 percent.
The good news for UNLV is that the Mountain West Tournament, which awards the league’s automatic NCAA Tourney bid to the winner, wasn’t do-or-die for the Rebels who are a lock to garner an at-large bid when pairings are announced at 3 p.m. on Sunday.
“The great thing is that the season is not over,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said. “We’ve got a lot to play for. I know our guys are excited.”
“I think we can do something special,” Marshall said. “We have all the weapons needed to make a run. We just have got to be prepared both mentally and physically and make it happen.”
— Steve Guiremand, MyLVsports.com