Katin Reinhardt had a career-high 21 points, including four 3-pointers. Anthony Bennett had 19 points, including a remarkable three 3-pointers in a 55-second span. And UNLV’s bench, led by Quintrell Thomas and Savon Goodman, came up big when key players like Bennett and Khem Birch encountered foul problems.
So there were plenty of positives for Dave Rice’s Runnin’ Rebels to talk about following Friday night’s hard-fought 75-65 victory over Colorado State in the semifinals of the Mountain West Tournament at the Thomas & Mack Center.
But shortly after UNLV’s 25th win of the season, most of the attention was already being focused on the New Mexico Lobos … and for good reason.
The Rebels (25-8) and regular-season champion Lobos (28-5) play for the tournament title this afternoon at 3 p.m. with the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament on the line, not to mention a whole lot of pride.
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It will be UNLV’s first appearance in the championship game since 2010. The Rebels haven’t cut down the nets since 2008, much to the chagrin of the wife of BYU star Lee Cummard.
New Mexico, meanwhile, will be trying to make it back-to-back tourney titles with the possibility of a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament with a win not entirely out of the question.
“We understand the magnitude of the game,” Rice said.
“It’s going to be a hostile environment,” point guard Anthony Marshall said. “As a basketball player, these are the type of basketball games you dream about playing in. It’s for the championship. It’s going to be loud and crazy.”
The two teams split the regular-season series with New Mexico winning, 65-60, on Jan. 9 at The Pit and UNLV, behind 17 points and 12 rebounds from Bennett, grinding out a 64-55 victory on Feb. 9 at the Thomas & Mack Center.
New Mexico advanced to the title game with a convincing 60-50 victory over San Diego State earlier Friday night.
“We know it’s a quick turnaround,” Rice said. “Great respect for New Mexico, for Steve Alford and what that program has accomplished. But we’re excited for the opportunity and understand the challenge it will be.”
For highlights of Friday night’s win over Colorado State, check out the video below.