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September 23, 2014

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year in review:

The top local sports story of 2011: Hiring Rice to run the Rebels

Image

Steve Marcus

Dave Rice, UNLV’s new head basketball coach, speaks during an introductory news conference Monday, April 11, 2011.

KSNV: Dave Rice Returns

KSNV coverage of Dave Rice's introduction at UNLV, April 11, 11:00 p.m.

Dave Rice introduced at UNLV

Dave Rice, left, UNLV's new head basketball coach, chats with Regent Jack Schofield before an introductory news conference Monday, April 11, 2011. Former coach Jerry Tarkanian is seated at right. Launch slideshow »

Coach Dave Rice at Practice

Launch slideshow »

This was the change the UNLV basketball program needed.

When Lon Kruger left the team in the spring after seven seasons and a 161-71 record for the same post at Oklahoma, the immediate reaction around the Las Vegas Valley was panic.

Kruger had brought the program from a perennial NIT qualifier to making the NCAA Tournament in four of the past five seasons, including playing in the 2007 Sweet 16.

However, what transpired in the eight months after Kruger’s departure has been more than longtime supporters of the program could have ever imagined: the Rebels’ are firmly back on the national radar and playing a run-and-gun style of basketball reminiscent of the program’s glory years.

Thank you, Dave Rice.

Rice, who was part of the Rebels’ 1990 national championship team, was hired in April with the intention of giving the passionate supporters of the scarlet and gray something to cheer about.

He’s done that and much more.

There was the memorable win against top-ranked North Carolina, a hard fought victory in double overtime at UC Santa Barbara and limiting Illinois to 48 points in a win at the United Center in Chicago. UNLV (13-2) is ranked No. 19, and more importantly, giving locals something to be proud about in a town faced with tremendous economic struggles.

The team’s marketing campaign of “Let’s Run” has helped fuel a style of play that has been downright fun to watch. The Rebels are forcing turnovers with an aggressive style of defense, which has led to several easy — and entertaining — baskets in transition. At times, it feels like a UNLV game in the late 1980s, when Jerry Tarkanian’s teams where putting on a show better than the ones a short drive west of the Thomas & Mack Center on the Las Vegas Strip.

Mike Moser, a transfer from UCLA and the program’s most exciting player, is one of the nation’s leaders in rebounds. Against Santa Barbara, he was unstoppable in scoring 34 points, including making 6 of 8 3-pointers. But it’s been more than Moser — Chace Stanback was great against North Carolina and Cal, Oscar Bellfield has been steady all year at guard, Quintrell Thomas shined against Illinois after struggling to find minutes earlier in the season, and local product Anthony Marshall has become the face of the program.

Just think, some were irate when Reggie Theus didn’t get the job.

Here are some of the other noteworthy stories in 2011 from the local sporting world. Analysis provided by Ray Brewer, the Sun’s sports editor.

    • 2011 Izod IndyCar: 11 Laps, Crash, Tribute and Mourning
      Photo by Tom Donoghue/DonoghuePhotography.com

      2. IndyCar driver Dan Wheldon tragically dies after crashing at Las Vegas Motor Speedway:

      The 33-year-old Wheldon, who won the Indianapolis 500 in 2011, died from a “non-survivable injury” after crashing during the 12th lap of the Izod IndyCar World Championship at the speedway. The crash collected 15 cars, including that of Wheldon, who came from behind the initial contact, launched over spinning cars and sailed about 325 feet into the catchfence.

    • dana white
      Photo by ASSOCIATED PRESS

      3. Brock and Georges are coming to network television:

      The Las Vegas-based Ultimate Fighting Championship entered into a seven-year deal with Fox, which will put four of the mixed martial arts league’s cards annually on network television. It’s viewed as a significant milestone in building the 10-year-old company, putting the growing sport in front of a new audience. The deal reportedly will net the UFC $100 million annually. Sports Illustrated ranks the item as the No. 10 story of 2011.

    • Mayweather Jr. knocks out Ortiz
      Photo by Steve Marcus

      4. Still no Mayweather-Pacquiao fight:

      Another 12 months have passed without the one boxing match the world wants to see, Las Vegas’ Floyd Mayweather Jr. against Manny Pacquiao. Not only would the fight bring the fighters each upward of $50 million, it would be a major boost to the struggling Las Vegas economy. While there have been near misses in getting the two fighters to agree on the details for a fight — the method of drug testing is a big hurdle — the chances of seeing the megafight have taken a big hit the past two months. Pacquiao won a controversial decision against Juan Manuel Marquez in early November and several want to see a fourth Pacquiao-Marquez fight. And, just last week, Mayweather was sentenced to 90 days in jail for one of his many legal problems. With both fighters in their 30s, the window for making this fight happen while both are at the peak of their game is slowly closing.

    • UNLV Stadium Renderings

      5. Stadium proposal for UNLV:

      • 2011 UNLV Football Schedule/Results
      • All UNLV Football Coverage
      • An effort to bring a football stadium to the UNLV campus created optimism the Rebels would have a new home in the near future. Playing 8 miles east of campus at Sam Boyd Stadium has long been considered one of the biggest hurdles in turning around the program, which made the proposal one of the year’s top stories. More than just a football stadium, the project would span 150 acres and include 600,000 square feet of shopping, restaurants and student residences. The centerpiece would be the 40,000-seat domed stadium for football, which could be transformed to seat about 20,000 for UNLV basketball games and other events such as concerts, soccer, boxing and bull riding. Financing for the multibillion-dollar project never transpired, making the project — just like every stadium proposal around town in recent years — a long shot. The football stadium alone was estimated at $600 million.

      • Las Vegas Invitational UNLV vs. UNC
        Photo by Sam Morris

        6. Rebels, Rebels:

        A 90-80 victory against top-ranked North Carolina at the Orleans Arena was more than the Rebels’ eighth-straight win to open the season. For several, it marked the return of the program nationally. Shortly after the win, the team was profiled by Sports Illustrated, ESPN the Magazine and USA Today, with the national publications documenting what fans felt in April when Dave Rice was hired ­— Rebel basketball is back, officially. Some are considering the win one of the most significant in program history, vaulting the Rebels from unranked to a No. 18 national ranking. It’s such a significant item it deserves to stand alone in our top 10 moments of 2011.

      • Prep Basketball Preview
        Photo by Sam Morris

        7. Top recruit calls Las Vegas home:

        Shabazz Muhammad, a 6-foot-6 wing from Bishop Gorman High, is the consensus No. 1 basketball recruit for the class of 2012 and has scholarship offers from all of the nation’s top college programs. With the skills and ability — especially when driving the ball to the basket — to merit the attention, Muhammad is the most followed high school athlete the Las Vegas Valley has seen. On any given weeknight, it’s common to see coaches such as Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski or Kentucky’s John Calipari at a random gym in Southern Nevada watching Muhammad. UNLV is also in on the Muhammad recruiting derby, with Rebel fans obsessed in their efforts to keep the prospect home. One even said he was willing to name his unborn child “Shabazz.” The fans coordinate on social media to attend several of his games, chanting “Hometown hero” when he touches the ball. Las Vegas will never see anything like this again.

      • UNLV football hit low with loss to Southern Utah
        Photo by Sam Morris

        8. UNLV football suffers tough defeats:

        • 2011 UNLV Football Schedule/Results
        • All UNLV Football Coverage
        • The UNLV football team continued its struggles in 2011, finishing with just two wins and often suffering several lopsided defeats. In a year of disappointment, three losses were especially hard to endure. On Sept. 24, quarterback Caleb Herring had three interceptions returned for touchdowns and the Rebels lost 41-16 to Southern Utah, a Football Championship Subdivision team that lost its next three games — to North Dakota, South Dakota and Cal Poly. The defeat is considered one of the worst in UNLV history. “Disappointing’s probably not a strong enough word for that,” UNLV coach Bobby Hauck said after the game. “I think everyone in that locker room is probably at a personal low point right now.” The ugliest loss for several was a 37-0 defeat the following week at UNR, where Herring only completed one of his 14 passes for eight yards. The Rebels were outgained 699-110 in falling for the seventh-straight season to their instate rivals. On Nov. 12, UNLV also lost 21-14 to New Mexico, which was widely considered the worst Division I team.

        • Bishop Gorman-Reed state football finals
          Photo by Sam Morris

          9. Gorman football unchallenged in winning third-straight title:

          The Bishop Gorman High football team’s 72-28 victory against Northern Nevada’s Reed High in the state championship game capped a third-straight season where the powerhouse Gaels didn’t lose to an instate opponent. In the run of state crowns, the Gaels have posted a 43-3 record and finished ranked nationally in all three seasons. This year, they knocked off a pair of top 25 opponents to finish at 16-1 overall and ranked as a consensus top 10 opponent. They beat every local opponent by 20-plus points, only surrendering 13 points in eight Southwest League games. Two of the Gaels’ players were named All-Americans by SI.com — offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley (Notre Dame) and running back Shaquille Powell (Duke).

        • Marathon Water
          Photo by Steve Marcus

          10. Marathon moves to night:

          The Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon and Half-Marathon went from being held in the early morning to nighttime, with runners competing under the lights of the Strip. The move spiked participation by about 16,000 runners to 44,000. The crowded field, however, proved to be problematic. Without enough space to race, runners reportedly began pushing and jostling while searching for a clear running path. Some ran outside race lanes on the sidewalk. Then, it began raining, which reportedly created havoc near the finish line and forced thousands of people to hustle into Mandalay Bay when the Michael Jackson Cirque show was letting out. Also, several complained about the water station, which took water from a fire hydrant into a plastic, lined garbage can. Runners were given this water in plastic cups while on the course, with a handful blaming the water for illnesses. Investigation by the Southern Nevada Health District and as Las Vegas Valley Water District dispute claims the water caused illness.

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    1. Some may have "panicked" at Kruger's abrupt departure, almost immediately after assuring the team he wasn't going anywhere, but others were relieved. He played a role, accomplished a goal, and stuck around two years too long. Run, Rebels, run!

    2. Coach Rice was a terrific hire. With some of the recruits he has snagged and direction the program continues to go it is going to be fun to watch. Props go to Kruger for setting this in motion. Rice is correct that Lon left the program in position to take this next step. Interesting that everyone talks about the run and gun style that Rice has implemented yet Oklahoma is averaging 78.7 points per game while the Rebs are averaging 78.4. Interesting. Runnin' Rebels!

    3. Another miserable year for sports in the valley if those are the top 10 stories.

      Yes, I agree with Dave Rice being number one and it was a great move, but it's a miserable time for sports in Las Vegas.

      Where are Maddux, Agassi, Cunningham, Hagler, Hearns, Leanord, Tyson, Holyfield, Tark, Final 4's and on and on, when you need em?

    4. The minute I heard Dave Rice was named the head coach I got over the pain of Kruger following the $'s. Coach Rice has exceeded my expectations in every thinkable area. What a hire!