There were less than three-and-a-half minutes remaining Saturday night when UNLV gathered around head coach Dave Rice for the final media timeout trailing Boise State 67-56.
As some of the 13,982 fans at the Thomas & Mack Center hit the exits to get a head start on beating the traffic home, Rice made a rather bold prediction.
“I remember (Rice) told me that I was going to make the free throws and that we were going to win,” forward Khem Birch said.
Considering the fact UNLV had been badly outplayed for most of the previous 36½ minutes, it was a rather bold prediction by Rice, and one that no doubt would have garnered more than its fair share of snickers from those who still remained in the stands. But Birch, who finished with 15 points, 15 rebounds and six blocked shots, went out and sank two free throws to start a stunning 17-2 game-ending run by the Runnin’ Rebels (15-7, 6-3) who pulled out a 73-69 victory over the Broncos (15-7, 5-4).
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“Yeah, I can’t lie, I’m surprised we won,” Birch said. “The fact that Coach (Rice) predicted the whole thing with under four minutes left is crazy. … I’m actually proud of Coach for all the confidence he gave in us tonight.”
Kevin Olekaibe scored 18 points, including a pair of 3-pointers during 2½ minutes, the final one well behind the line at the top of the key with 19.3 seconds remaining that proved to be the game-winner.
Olekiabe’s final trey came after back-to-back layups by point guard Deville Smith over a 15-second span, the second one coming after Smith also stole the ball from Broncos guard Mikey Thompson at center court.
Boise State guard Derrick Marks, who finished with a game-high 22 points, had a chance to tie it with six seconds left but he missed an open 10-foot floater in the key and Bryce Dejean-Jones grabbed the rebound and was fouled. Dejean-Jones, who finished with 11 points, then sealed the win by sinking two free throws.
So what does the comeback win say about the Rebels?
“It tells you we’ve improved a lot since six weeks ago,” Birch said. “Six weeks ago we lose this game by probably 20.”
Check out all the key plays from the final frantic four minutes in the VIDEO above.