It was arguably UNLV’s worst and most painful loss of the season.
The date was Feb. 18 and the site was The Pit in Albuquerque, N.M. UNLV, which managed just 18 points in a feeble second half showing, had its hopes for a regular season Mountain West championship crushed with an embarrassing 65-45 loss to New Mexico.
The Rebels (26-7), who breezed past Steve Alford’s squad, 80-63, in the first meeting on Jan. 21 at the Thomas & Mack Center, were already focused on tonight’s 8:30 p.m. rubber match moments after disposing of Wyoming, 56-48, in a Mountain West Tournament quarterfinal game Thursday night.
“Been wanting to face them since the buzzer sounded in New Mexico,” junior guard Anthony Marshall said. “To be the last team standing (in the Mountain West tourney), we’ve got to get through them.”
“We’ve had that bad taste in our mouth for a long time now,” added forward Mike Moser. “Getting back on the court against them is definitely going to get our blood going and I think we’re going to come out and be really ready for this game.”
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The Rebels improved to 17-0 at the Thomas & Mack this year by using some stifling team defense against the Cowboys.
How stifling was it?
Well, Wyoming scored just 11 points in the first half, a Mountain West Tourney record for fewest points in a half. The Cowboys made just 3 of 24 shots from the floor (12.5 percent).
UNLV built up a 28-11 halftime lead as Moser scored 18 of his game-high 22 points before intermission, including several highlight-reel plays around the basket. He also grabbed 14 rebounds for his 15th double-double of the season.
Marshall also had another big game, finishing with eight hard-earned points, 10 rebounds and two steals.
And senior point guard Oscar Bellfield dished off a game-high five assists to give him a career total of 568, breaking the Mountain West career mark of 564 set by New Mexico’s Dairese Gary from 2007-11.
UNLV led by as many as 22 points early in the second half before Wyoming used a late 19-6 run to close within six points, 51-45, on a Francisco Cruz 3-pointer with 59.8 seconds remaining.
But Bellfield (two), Moser (two) and Marshall (one) then combined for five straight free throws to squelch any dramatic comeback hopes by the Cowboys.
New Mexico (25-6) advanced to tonight’s tournament semifinals with a 79-64 victory over Air Force (13-16).