Thursday, March 8, 2012

Cowboys save face, but lose 56-48 to the Runnin’ Rebels

This game had everything, massive scoring droughts, incredible individual performances, excellent defense, a comeback, and finally and most importantly – a UNLV win. The MWC Conference Championship quarterfinals saw all four favorites, SDSU, New Mexico, CSU, and UNLV advance to the semis.

In an effort to make this a neutral court, the tournament organizers rented and repainted the same court used during the carrier classic, the outdoor game that featured UNC and Michigan State in San Diego at the beginning of the season. “Neutral Court” or not, opposing coaches and oddsmakers still put the odds on the Rebels to win the championship this year. One thing is certain – nobody is going to make that an easy accomplishment.

Today’s match started extremely slow for both teams. UNLV’s first points were from Chace Stanback, with a signature three. This was supposed to be a good sign, given he has not made any field goals during either of the two previous meetings with Wyoming. The score sat at 5-3 until 11 minutes remained in the half. This was when Mr. Incredible, Mozilla, Mike Moser took the first half over. He was everything and anything, and he singlehandedly outscored Wyoming 18-11. From Moser, we saw an inbounds dunk, a put back throw-in, two three pointers, a nice finger-roll, and at least a jumper or two. Not a whole lot else was happening for the Rebels, but it really didn’t effect the first half outcome. The Rebels took a very comfortable 28-11 lead into the half.

Besides the otherworldly scoring that Mike Moser shared with us, the Rebels played amazing team defense. Wyoming is a much tougher team than their RPI suggests, but they did beat the Rebels previously in Laramie. To me, Wyoming just looked tired to begin the game, but would find new life later. When the Rebels weren’t creating havoc for Larry Shyatt’s team, they were missing open shots. Mr. Defense had to be Justin Hawkins – this guy has the knack for steals the same way Marcus Banks had it – early and often.

The Rebels pushed the lead to as much as 22 points in the second half, and instead of building on that, or maintaining it by trading baskets, the Rebels went cold. Leonard Washington and Luke Martinez brought new life to Wyoming and got the lead as close as 6 points late in the game. The Rebels weathered and persevered by working the defense. Anthony Marshall said it best by saying nothing at all, but pounding the court – a move reminiscent of our sweet sixteen team. Mike Moser, who was mostly silent offensively after the half had a sweet fade away bank shot off glass.

With about two minutes remaining, the Cowboys exploited a consistent weaknesses of the Rebels – foul shooting. Trying to get back in the game (and almost succeeding) Wyoming employed a hack-a-Rebel strategy to put someone on the line and hopefully have them miss – thereby creating a stop and getting the ball back with more time to score. Thankfully, the Rebels were not as horrible as they could have been at the line, but there is certainly room for improvement. The Rebels pushed the lead out to 10 and then it receded a bit and finished at 8.

The immediate question to be asked is how will the Rebels’ legs be against ultra athletic and determined New Mexico come tomorrows game? Coach Rice isn’t concerned, chalking it up to preparation and conditioning. It wasn’t a blowout, but at least it wasn’t as close as the San Diego State win. Be sure to watch tomorrows contest, spoiler alert, you won’t be looking at yellow jerseys any longer.

Reign man: Mike Moser (see above). Honorable mention, Justin Hawkins.

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