Saturday, January 28, 2012

Overtime again, the Rebels now share 1st place in the MWC with a 65-63 victory over Air Force

The Falcons were supposed to be an easy and expected win, but the same was true of Boise St. For numerous reasons, the Rebels went to overtime and fortunately pulled out the road win, pushing the record to 20 wins, 3 losses, and tying with SDSU for 1st place in the MWC. That title became available when the Aztecs lost in a major way to Colorado State today, 77-60. Back to our game.

This contest started out fine, the Rebels traded buckets with the Falcons until the 16 minute mark, and then broke open a 10 point lead, (20-10). Rebels were able to maintain a lead, however dwindling, till five minutes remained in the half. Air Force then pulled ahead and ended the half winning 34-33.

From early on it was easy to see Mike Moser was still riding high from his performance in Boise this past Wednesday, and was ready to do what was necessary to win the game. Joining him early was Oscar Bellfield, he finished the half with 8 points, 5 assists on 3-4 shooting. Brice Massamba was having luck early in the paint, but foul trouble slowed and shook him a bit. Quintrell Thomas, who was the only other ‘big’ who saw action (Lopez dressed but did not play due to ankle) was not particularly effective in this contest, and saw limited minutes.

In the first half, and really throughout the game, many of the following problems hampered the Rebels.
Free throw shooting was embarrassing. They call it free, because it is easy – yet the Rebels had extremely poor luck at the line tonight. They shot only 20% from the stripe in the first half and ended at 50% 9-18. We certainly could have avoided overtime if we would just have hit some damn free throws. UGH!

Turnovers – The Rebels couldn’t control the ball, were making too many unnecessary passes, and making the Falcons look like defensive specialists – when they really aren’t. The Rebels had 9 first half turnovers, which is why even through the Rebels shot 56% from the field and the Falcons 44%, the Falcons were winning. Rebels had half as many turnovers in the second half, and actually forced some turnovers on the Falcons such that they finished with 17, and we with 15.

Lack of perimeter defense – Anyone who scouted Air Force would tell you they like to shoot the three. UNLV has the athletic advantage, and as one of the premier defensive teams in the league, we should have been able to play Air Force man-to-man and pressure them on the perimeter. For some reason that did not happen, and the Rebels, especially in the first half, sat in a zone and allowed the perimeter to fire away. Air Force took full advantage, and finished with 11 three pointers (42% from 3). Unacceptable, that was 33 points of their 63, more than half!

Throughout the second half Mike Moser was still determined and won us the ball game. When you look at his numbers, an impressive 27 points, 12 boards, 3 steals, and 2 assists. But beyond that, he was the emotional lynchpin that held it together out there. Today, the Rebels were not Runnin’, nor the second half team they’ve been typecast as. The lead bounced back and forth throughout the second, and there was good and bad. Since the bad has already been discussed, the good:

Justin Hawkins – he did some really great things not necessarily reflected in his 6 points and 6 rebounds. He had a really nice steal and circus style layup that fell in, plus the successful foul shot.

Anthony Marshall – was 3-4 from the free throw line, including a trip where he hit his head on the backboard. Its been a physical week for Marshall, hopefully the Mendenhall Center has a basement with bathtubs full of ice.

Mike Moser – took an elbow to the face via Taylor Broekhuis, and didn’t even get the foul call. He did get a bloody nose. Mike got revenge, on a beautiful one handed jam in overtime where the nose gauze fell out too. That would have to be the play of the game.

Oscar Bellfield – continued where he left off in the first half, finished with 15 points, and 7 assists. He was 3-6 from 3 point land, including a big one in overtime– good to see his confidence in his shot coming back.

The overtime period predictably favors the Rebels given their conditioning and experience in overtime games. It was not an easy overtime period, but the Rebels did enough to ensure the Falcons never led (tied once).
The most interesting thing about the end of overtime, was UNLV gave up several opportunities to pull away and make the contest unreachable for Air Force. The dreaded free throw problem reared its head again – Moser was at the line with the Rebs up 2, missed both of them and the ball landed (after a scrum) in Air Force hands with less than 35 seconds. What saved a potentially game tying Air Force second chance basket was Chace Stanback stealing the ball.

This wasn’t the way the Rebels wanted to win it, nor how the fans wanted to watch it. But, it was entertaining and it was still a win. Whether or not these back-to-back close ones makes people think UNLV is vunerable is debatable, but it brings validity to the statement that every conference game in the MWC is going to be tough. While dominance and blowouts makes you feel like you are and should be the top program In the nation, W’s versus L’s is the only real stat that puts your team there.

Reign man – Mike Moser is pushing his way up the list for Naismith player of the year. Thank you for winning us another game, hope the same magic is around come tournament time.


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