RON KANTOWSKI:

Rebels rise, fall to meet rivals

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Sam Morris

UNLV guard Mareceo Rutledge BYU’s Jonathan Tavernari fight for a rebound during Saturday’s game.

Clawing Back

After a devastating loss in Laramie, the Rebels clawed back into the thick of the Mountain West Conference standings by beating the Cougars, 75-74, Saturday night. Wink Adams scored a game-high 22 points to lead UNLV to its 20th win of the season.

UNLV edges out BYU

Wink Adams takes it up against BYU at the Thomas & Mack Center on Feb. 21, 2009. UNLV pulled off the season sweep of the Cougars with a 75-74 win. Launch slideshow »
The Rebel Room

BYU POSTGAME: Bench/crowd gets it going

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Ryan Greene and Rob 'The Wise Owl' Miech discuss UNLV's slim 75-74 victory over BYU on Saturday night at the Mack, fueled by the super-sub efforts of Kendall Wallace and Mo Rutledge, plus the Rebels' largest home crowd since 1993. Also, an unfriendly welcome for Mrs. Cummard and where the up-and-down Rebels go from here.

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I have this theory that if the Rebels were to schedule the Lakers, they would probably lose by four points.

And if they played the Washington Generals, they would probably lose by five.

It’s not a new theory. In fact, it’s older than Bob Cousy’s satin basketball shorts.

The Rebels get up for the good teams and let down for the bad teams. Or at least most of them. It’s just that simple.

Well, maybe it’s not that simple. But I am not Red on Roundball and have never played Dr. Joyce Brothers, not even on TV. So how else do you explain the Rebels playing so poorly at Wyoming on Wednesday before playing so well, at least in the second half, against those Kansas wannabes from BYU three nights later?

The crowd for BYU was 18,523, the first sellout of the Lon Kruger era; the first sellout, in fact, since Rollie Massimino was coach in 1993, which probably is why most Rebels fans couldn’t remember the last time the Thomas & Mack Center had a rear end in every seat. It was louder than the sound of a Rebels’ free throw clanking off the rim, as their recurring inability to shoot free throws during the final minute explains why they beat the Cougars by only one, 75-74, when they should have won by double digits.

But playing in front of a raucous home crowd doesn’t account for everything.

Like most everybody else in the top tier of a college basketball conference, the Rebels are pretty tough to beat at home. They have won 30 of their past 31 conference games within the not-so-friendly confines of the Mack. (Actually, that chant of “Psy-cho Sarah” when her husband, BYU’s Lee Cummard, touched the ball only shows the UNLV faithful is paying attention.)

If Sarah Cummard was guilty of anything at last year’s Mountain West tournament championship game when she scrapped with UNLV fans, it probably was just being a bit of a sore loser. I’m sure that one day she and Lee will laugh like crazy when they tell their grandkids that story, if they haven’t already.

OK, maybe she is a little psycho. But no more psycho than the Rebels winning at BYU, where nobody (except Wake Forest) wins, and losing at TCU and Colorado State, where almost nobody loses. And that one loss among the 31 games mentioned above? It was a couple of weeks ago to a San Diego State team they usually beat here with one hand tied behind their back.

We’ll give Lon Kruger the benefit of the doubt and agree that Wyoming, another Mountain West bottom feeder, is tough to beat at 7,220 feet. But those are the kind of games you must win if you are going to claim the regular-season conference championship as predicted, which the Rebels won’t be doing.

“We’ve had a run of games where it looks like that,” Kruger said about the Rebels playing to the level of their opponent. “I don’t know if there’s an answer for it.”

Maybe he should make a group appointment with Dr. Melfi from “The Sopranos.”

“We’ve slipped up a couple of times and really didn’t get in the hunt for the conference championship, and you can’t afford to do that.”

But you really can afford to do that when the conference tournament champion receives an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, and the conference tournament will be played on your home court for the third consecutive year.

Unless you were hanging out with the bats in Carlsbad Caverns or spelunking in some other cave, you know who cut down the nets the first two years. Check out the cover of Kruger’s book if you need reminding.

It seems impossible that a team capable of sweeping BYU, beating Louisville on its home court with its best player — sorry, Kendall Wallace fans, that’s still Wink Adams — in street clothes and winning 20 games finds itself in fifth place in the conference standings.

If the regular season were to end today, the Rebels would begin the conference tournament as a No. 5 seed. Wow. They could play somebody like New Mexico in the first round, which, considering the way the Lobos play defense, is not the matchup you’d want.

Then again, it might be just the matchup these mercurial Rebels, these Jekyll-and-Hyde Rebels, these there’s-nothing-in-Dr. Freud’s-manual-that-describes-this-sort-of-schizophrenia Rebels thrive on.

On Wednesday, the Rebels will travel to Salt Lake City to play Utah, the best team in the Mountain West. It’s the sort of difficult occasion for which this team has shown the ability to rise, even when Wallace and Mareceo Rutledge aren’t coming off the bench and throwing in 3’s.

Whether they will is anybody’s guess.

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  1. I have a theory: the Rebels are employing the "amoeba team" strategy. Much like Tark's defense, it molds itself to opposing teams.

  2. M:

    I like it. That's as good as anything I could come with. :-)