Monday, Feb. 5, 2001 | 11:08 a.m.
LARAMIE, Wyo. -- Are the Rebels resilient, or merely resigned?
We should learn plenty in the first 10 minutes tonight against Wyoming.
Though no one uttered the word "quit" after Saturday's 80-55 defeat at Colorado State, it was plainly evident that UNLV lacked sufficient motivation and/or preparation against the Rams, from one end of the bench to the other.
Besides, it is hard to quit something that you never started. The Rebels fell behind CSU by 19 points after only 11 minutes, offering little defensive protest, and things never got any better.
Now, with an ESPN Big Monday audience looking in tonight, UNLV must summon whatever pride and diligence it has left or risk being blown out. Wyoming (15-4, 6-1) has rocketed to the top of the Mountain West and is hitting on all cylinders after hammering San Diego State 101-66 Saturday.
The Cowboys are 8-0 at the Arena-Auditorium, where they embarrassed the Rebels 109-98 last year after leading by 33 points with 16 minutes left. That night, UNLV entered with a head of steam after a three-point win at CSU.
How the Rebels will react after Saturday's no-show is anybody's guess, including their own. But to a man, they agree they must make an immediate stand against Wyoming. If they fall behind early -- their latest habit -- trying to rally in college basketball's highest altitude (7,220 feet) is an awful bet.
"We've got to have a great start," guard Trevor Diggs said. "If we can stay in the game early, I think we'll be all right. But if they get a 10-zip lead, we'll be in trouble, because they run a lot and sub a lot of guys in and out."
Jermaine Lewis, who blamed himself Saturday after shooting 0-of-5, said, "I don't know why we have bad starts, but it keeps happening. We can't do that (tonight), because I've heard the altitude takes your legs away."
In the postgame locker room at CSU, coach Max Good immediately began stressing tonight's first few minutes.
"A slow start would be catastrophic," Good said. "(Colorado State) is a team that crawls, but Wyoming is like a master blaster. They come right at you. We've got to get stops. We can't keep getting behind and then try to get back in games, especially on the road."
Even assuming UNLV comes back with an acceptable effort, there is no guarantee the Cowboys will be willing foils. After losing their MWC opener to Utah, they've won six in a row, including three on the road. They lead the league in scoring (80.0 ppg), rebounding (43.0) and field-goal defense (38.8).
In this week's USA Today/ESPN coaches poll, Wyoming placed 29th in the voting.
"I figure we'll get respect when we deserve it," Cowboys coach Steve McClain said. "A lot of votes come from the East Coast, and you don't get those votes until you earn their respect."
Wyoming has built its MWC lead behind two new sophomore stars: swingman Marcus Bailey and Nigerian center Uche Nsonwu-Amadi.
Bailey leads the Cowboys with 17.5 points a game, while Nsonwu-Amadi has emerged as one of the MWC's best big men. In his last five games, he is averaging 14.4 points and 9.6 rebounds, including 22 and 13 at New Mexico. He has made 14 straight shots over his last two games.
Nsonwu-Amadi's emergence comes at a bad time for UNLV. Rebels power forward Dalron Johnson has missed two straight games with a sprained ankle and his availability tonight will be a game time decision.
"He wanted to play (Saturday), but I didn't want to risk it," Good said. "If he hurt it worse and it became a season-ending thing, or a career-ending thing, how could I look myself in the mirror? He hasn't practiced all week."
"Everyone shot down my idea real quick," he said. "It had nothing to do with UNLV. It's just that I had never been in a league when something like (a postseason ban) happened. Everyone took it like I was against UNLV, but that wasn't the case.
"I think it's great that the games count. I feel bad for (Kaspars) Kambala, Diggs and their other seniors. Kambala has invested so much in that program, but after the last conference game, it's all over."
UNLV will appear Wednesday before the NCAA to appeal the ban, but an overturn is unlikely.