Friday, March 12, 2010 | 2:10 a.m.
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Ryan Greene and Ray Brewer cap a busy quarterfinal day at the MWC tournament by discussing what went right in UNLV's 73-61 victory over Utah, plus take a look forward at the third meeting this season with rival BYU in Friday's semis.
Coupled with several other NCAA tournament bubbles bursting elsewhere around the country earlier in the day, the Rebels appear to be firmly in the field of 65 come Sunday afternoon no matter what.
But after thoroughly enjoying a 73-61 victory over the Utes in the Mountain West Conference tournament quarterfinals at the Thomas & Mack Center, it was clear that the Rebels were playing with a deeper purpose than just padding their résumé or standing out in the eyes of so-called bracketologists.
"We're not really looking so far ahead to the NCAA tournament," freshman guard Anthony Marshall said. "We're focused on tomorrow, BYU, and winning this conference."
Yes, UNLV will provide its fans with a third installment in the season series with its biggest rival at 8:30 p.m. Friday back at the Mack in the night's second semifinal, following a 6 p.m. clash between top-seeded New Mexico and San Diego State.
And in a game which many thought could be a trap against a team that already had upset the Rebels twice, Marshall turned out to be quite the difference-maker.
In his finest performance of his young collegiate career, the Mojave High product finished with 13 points, 12 rebounds, five assists, two steals, a block and a couple of highlight moments.
"You know, I don't think I can put it in words right now, especially for his first postseason game," UNLV junior guard Tre'Von Willis said. "He definitely was one of the guys that you could look in his eyes, you could tell he just wanted it."
Added Chace Stanback: "We followed his lead tonight. It was very impressive. He just showed that he had no nerves or anything. He just did it. We're glad he did."
The prime portion of his body of work came in capping a crucial 10-0 run early in the second half after Utah fought back to within a point at 31-30.
The Rebels had extended their lead back out to seven points following a Brice Massamba layup, when Marshall then stole a pass in the backcourt, wisely feeding Stanback for a two-handed stuff.
He then took a defensive board on Utah's next possession and turned it into an and-one, acrobatic finish on the other end.
"The first half, towards the end, the last couple minutes we felt like we had a couple breakdowns," Marshall said. "We were trying to make big plays, instead of just the single plays."
After the spurt gave UNLV a double-digit lead, the Rebels finally had found a way to crack the Utes. Jim Boylen's club got even more impatient and sloppy, and that translated into big plays for everyone.
Following two uncharacteristically ugly overall performances against Utah during the regular season, everyone who touched the floor for UNLV this time around not only scored but also found ways to contribute elsewhere.
Willis scored 13 points to go with his five rebounds, while Stanback had 10 points, six boards and three steals.
UNLV efficiently hit 27 of its 56 shot attempts and overcame Utah's size advantage inside to outscore the Utes in the paint, 24-16.
Maybe the biggest difference this time around, though, was the Rebels' defensive intensity across the board.
After UNLV set the tone early with the in-your-face approach it had employed each time out during a four-game winning streak heading into the league tourney, Utah never found its footing on offense.
The Utes were just 13-of-40 from the floor and committed 15 costly turnovers. Their two biggest offensive catalysts — guards Luka Drca and Carlon Brown — combined to go 3-of-17 from the field as the Rebels made them uncomfortable early and often.
"The first two meetings, their pick-and-rolls killed us," Willis said. "Our focal point, our starting point as a group, we wanted to take them out of that, try to make them dribble-drive. We did pretty well with it as a whole.
"We were definitely swarming around, which we definitely wanted to do tonight."
UNLV's win was the capper on a quarterfinal round which saw the top four seeds all advance, setting up what is sure to be a pair of heated games Friday night.
The Rebels (24-7) split the season series with the Cougars (29-4), first stumbling late Jan. 6 in Provo, losing 77-73. The Feb. 6 return game in Las Vegas saw UNLV put on its most blistering offensive performance of the season in an 88-74 victory.
BYU also had to shake off a pesky opponent in the second half Thursday, ultimately squeezing by TCU, 95-85, behind junior guard Jimmer Fredette's MWC tournament-record 45 points. That included hitting 23 of 24 free-throw attempts.
If there's one star player in the league who UNLV consistently has made a non-factor in their meetings, though, it's Fredette.
In the two games against BYU this season, the Rebels have held Fredette to 6-of-25 shooting.
"You know he's going to score. You respect that," UNLV coach Lon Kruger said. "But try to make him as inefficient as possible."
Though it technically will be considered a neutral site Friday, UNLV also has recent history on its side against BYU in the Mack. The Rebels have won the last seven meetings with the Cougars at the Mack.
But history alone won't do the job.
An effort like Thursday's, however, couldn't hurt.
"I'm not sure," Willis said when asked about why UNLV has so much success at home against its top rival. "If we want to win tomorrow, we have to bring the same energy and intensity that we had tonight."
Jasper still a no-go
After practicing all week leading up to Thursday's quarterfinals, he suited up, but during warm-ups only rebounded for teammates while they hoisted shots, and the fact that he wasn't donning a knee brace made it pretty clear that he would not go.
Kruger, before Thursday's game, said Jasper was doubtful to play against the Utes.