Saturday, February 11, 2012

Nail biter! UNLV wins 65-63 over SDSU

What an entertaining game. 18,500 watched competitive, high level college basketball in the Thomas and Mack Center on a Saturday afternoon, and many times more watched from couches, bars, and sportsbooks – all to see what the Rebels would do after losing the first MWC game to SDSU, and coming off of a loss to Wyoming. The billing lived up to expectations, not only because of the play on the court, but off of the court as well.

After Brice Massamba tipped the ball and it landed in Aztec hands, the game got off to a quick start. It was apparent that the Aztecs came ready to play and were unfazed by the largest crowd they’ve seen all year. The Rebels misfired at first, and the Aztecs jumped out to a 4-0 lead. Massamba redeemed himself and put the first points on the board about a minute into the game on a short jumper. After a couple of missed shots Oscar Bellfield, the ‘rock’ in recent games, dropped in a three pointer, bringing the Rebels within 1. Xavier Thames helped push the Aztecs ahead again, and they held and 11-5 lead at the 14:20 mark.

Some of the problems in the early part of the game for the Rebels were lack of defensive energy, missed shots (including layups), and in my opinion – giving the Aztecs way to much respect early in the game. Mike Moser was aggressive, but his shot was very off early on. Thankfully, he would right that ship. At this point Coach Rice took a time out and talked to his team about defensive intensity – message received.

Justin Hawkins hit a nice three, the aforementioned Mike Moser had steal which led to a jumper and Oscar Bellfield had a layup ( I saw dunk) to give the Rebels their first lead of the game, 12-11 with 12:30 left in the half.  Later in the first half Mike Moser had a sick 1 handed putback dunk, punctuating his total turnaround form his early performance. The game stayed very close until three minutes remained in the half, and that’s when UNLV went on a run to give the Rebels a comfortable lead going into halftime. In that run, Chace Stanback and Mike Moser each had fastbreak threes. Right at the buzzer an Aztec player (can’t find his name right now) took a long three and made it, but it was waiver off because it was after the clock had expired. UNLV’s lead was UNLV 37, SDSU 29.

UNLV outperformed in the first half because the Rebels had very few turnovers and even fewer fouls. The Rebels had about 4 turnovers at the half, and only 2-3 fouls. Great things to have.

Coming into the second half, the man early was Brice Masamba. He scored the first 8 points consecutively, totally validating the article in the LVRJ that ran earlier this week - Link. The Aztecs didn’t roll over, but UNLV had a comfortable 10 point lead with 19 minutes remaining in the game. Over the course of 14 of those minutes, the Rebels held the 10 point lead give or take, by playing Rebel basketball, solid defense, and not being careless with the ball. Then it all fell apart, the Rebels went ice cold, and almost gave away the game.

Before we discuss that, there were many great things to see during the  14 minutes of the second half where the Rebels played well. Besides the dominance of Brice Massamba, Chace Stanback had a really nice block that on Xavier Thames. SDSU racked up several fouls in rapid succession, much more so than the Rebels. Reggie Smith, who got his first minutes of the game in the second half, assisted Oscar Bellfield to a really nice three pointer. Mike Moser’s jumpers were falling, but unfortunately a lot of the Rebels (with the exception of Massamba) couldn’t convert simple layups. Quintrell Thomas also had a nice block that he was able to control inbounds and got to another Rebel. The Rebels stole the ball quite a bit, and for the game, finished with an above average 13 steals. Chace Stanback had a jumper on an in-bounds pass (not sure if it counts as an assist).

OK, as said previously, the wheels started to come off of the Rebel machine in the 6 minute mark. Reasons that contributed, many passes were simply thrown away to the Aztecs. Over a four minute period the Rebels had -0- field goals. At the 1:30 mark Chase Tapley nailed a three pointer to finally put Aztecs ahead of the Rebels, 63-62.

So, in the scariest of scenarios – the SDSU Aztecs had the lead and the ball with less than a minute remaining. Most of us have seen that movie before, and don’t like how it ends, so this was not the best place to be in. Nonetheless, the Rebels gutted this one out. Mike Moser stole the ball on a layup attempt, and then passed it to Anthony Marshall for a fast break layup that just barely made it over the front of the rim, putting the Rebels back ahead by 1 with 37 seconds left. On the next possession, Chace Stanback steals the ball from Jaamal Franklin, the ball ends up with Justin Hawkins, and the Aztecs foul Hawkins. Because it was a non-shooting non-bonus foul, the Rebels passed the ball into Chase Stanback, who was fouled quickly, and would be a 1-and-1 shooting trip. Stanback missed the free throw, but Justin Hawkins rebounded and was fouled. Hawkins hit the first, missed the second, and the the Aztecs got the ball back. The Rebels, now only up by 2 points, desperately needed to get the ball back, or prevent any field goals that could win or push the game to overtime. Near mid court the amazing Justin Hawkins pulled another trademarked steal and easily layed up the ball to seal it. Although I originally thought the final was 67-63, they must have waived off Hawkins layup as late. The Rebels won the contest 65-63.

Besides the win that should put us back in front of SDSU in the national rankings, there were other great things happening inside the Thomas and Mack Center. Someone dumped a lot of money into the Rebellion student section, and paid for full color large heads. My favorite, besides the full body giant Mike Moser, would have to be the Mike Tyson that was reminiscent of Mike Tyson’s Punchout. Another familiar ‘big head’ would have to be the appearance by Flavor Flav in the flesh, hanging out in the student section and playing the cowbell. Only in Vegas. Yeaaaaaaaaaah boy!

Reign men - Many Rebels stepped up their game today and were crucial to UNLV's win. First, the whole team and staff, but second to that I'll single out Mike Moser, Justin Hawkins, Brice Massamba, and Oscar Bellfield. Chace Stanback also is deserving based on the huge steal late in the game. Great job to everyone!

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