MOUNTAIN WEST TOURNAMENT:

Selection Sunday awaits UNLV following 74-72 loss to San Diego State in MWC semis

Aztecs notch eighth win in last nine tries against Rebels thanks to D.J. Gay’s late heroics

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV forward Quintrell Thomas lies on the floor after a last second shot came up short against San Diego State during their Mountain West Conference Championship game Friday, March 11, 2011 at the Thomas & Mack Center. San Diego State won 74-72 and will play BYU in the finals on Saturday.

MWC Tourney: UNLV vs. SDSU

UNLV forward Quintrell Thomas lies on the hardwood after the Rebels were beat by San Diego State in their Mountain West Conference Championship game Friday, March 11, 2011 at the Thomas & Mack Center. San Diego State won 74-72 and will play BYU in the finals on Saturday. Launch slideshow »

UNLV vs. San Diego State

KSNV coverage of UNLV vs. San Diego State basketball game at Mountain West Conference Tournament, March 11, 2011.

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The Rebel Room

SDSU POSTGAME: Rebels fall in league tourney, await Selection Sunday

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The UNLV basketball team fell Friday in the semifinals of the Mountain West Conference tournament, losing 74-72 to San Diego State. The Rebels have done enough, however, to qualify for the NCAA Tournament and will receive their fate Sunday during the selection show.

For the third time this season, UNLV had a shot to take down mighty San Diego State in the final minutes.

For the third time this season, the opportunity crumbled into an agonizing defeat.

A 74-72 Aztec victory was sealed with a D.J. Gay floater in the lane with just under five seconds left to play on Friday night at the Thomas & Mack Center in the Mountain West Conference tournament semifinals. Those heroics came on the heels of a busted alley-oop attempt on the other end that was sniffed out by San Diego State senior big man Malcolm Thomas.

"It's pretty frustrating, because we know we can compete with them," UNLV guard Anthony Marshall said afterward. "You go into games like that expecting a battle. Those are the type of games you're looking for. To come up short three times in a row, it's very disappointing."

But this time, what lies in the immediate future makes the loss a little easier for the Rebels (24-8) to deal with.

While the Aztecs (31-2) get set to play their third game in as many days in Saturday's 4 p.m. title game against BYU, who advanced earlier with an 87-76 victory over New Mexico, the Rebels will reload physically and wait until Sunday afternoon to have their NCAA tournament travel plans cemented.

UNLV was playing not just for its first league tourney title since 2008, but also for better seeding in next week's field of 68.

The consolation prize of knowing that the program's fourth NCAA tournament bid in five years is coming soon wasn't enough to keep the Rebels from wondering 'What if?' with dejected looks on their faces at the end of another physical, close war with the Aztecs.

UNLV looked tentative early on the offensive end but was rescued by a 14-point spurt from Chace Stanback in the middle of the first half. After combining to score just 13 points in the two regular season showdowns with SDSU, Stanback eclipsed that total in a matter of minutes with his hottest stretch of the season.

They led by one with five minutes to go before halftime, but SDSU closed the opening stanza on a 7-0 run and led 44-34 at the break.

The Rebels bumped up their defensive effort and cohesion after the intermission, and thanks to several clutch buckets from Stanback and Tre'Von Willis, combined with a bevy of free throw makes by Marshall, the stage was set late for UNLV to finally get over the hump against the nation's seventh-ranked team.

Their last lead came with just inside of a minute to go, as Stanback hit a jumper atop the key to put UNLV ahead 72-70. Malcolm Thomas answered with two made free throws, and the Rebels called a timeout with 35 seconds remaining in the game and 28 on the shot clock.

"Simply, Tre is going to set a back-screen for Chace," UNLV coach Lon Kruger explained. "They're not leaving Tre. Get the ball in Oscar (Bellfield's) hands. If it's open, throw (the lob), if not, we had Tre popping for a catch-and-drive, with Chace setting up in the corner."

Bellfield opted for the lob to Stanback, but sniffing it out was the springy, 6-foot-10 Thomas, who deflected it and got SDSU the shot at the dagger.

From there, it was history, as Gay milked the clock, knifed the lane and flipped a shot over the outstretched arm of Quintrell Thomas that went in the books as the game-winner. Willis's last-second heave attempt from 30 feet was nowhere near going in.

"It was open," Kruger continued on the lob play. "Oscar made the right decision. Just didn't get it quite high enough. Game of inches."

The inches did tell the story, because on the final box score, the two teams were nearly identical in every statistical category.

Stanback led UNLV with 22 points on 9-of-17 shooting, while Willis continued to look like the 2009-10 version of himself, scoring 19 points in 37 hard minutes. Marshall added 12, including an 8-of-8 showing from the free throw line.

On the other side, Kawhi Leonard hit several key shots down the stretch for SDSU, finishing with a team-high 18 points and eight rebounds. D.J. Gay scored 15, Thomas had 13 and Las Vegas native Billy White tallied 12 thanks to a quick start to the game.

UNLV played tougher against San Diego State's loaded frontcourt than it had all season, despite Quintrell Thomas, who was far more effective this time around than in the first two meetings, mysteriously sitting on the bench for the better part of the second half.

The quality of hoops on the floor matched that of an epic Friday night semifinal round a year ago in the league tournament, and the atmosphere for the entire evening was even better this time around, with capacity crowds of 18,500 in place for both games.

Now, for UNLV, all attention turns to the NCAA tournament after dropping its eighth game in its last nine tries against SDSU.

The Rebels, according to most outside bracket experts, are likely going to fall somewhere between a No. 7 and No. 10 seed, meaning they'll have a strong shot at at least getting to the doorstep of the tourney's second weekend.

Just as they went into Friday night's semifinal wanting to avenge two previous losses to SDSU, they still harbor bad memories from last year's one-and-done trip to the NCAAs, where UNLV was bounced by Northern Iowa in Oklahoma City, 69-66.

For many of the Rebels, it was their first time playing heavy minutes in an NCAA tournament contest.

The trip to the NCAAs was already earned before Friday night, and now all focus shifts to staying a little longer this time.

"Games like this against a top-10 team in the nation, it prepares you for the NCAA tournament," Marshall said. "Last year, we kind of felt our way through the first half (against UNI). The second half we kind of turned it up. We've got to come out of the gates playing hard, flying around, dictating, taking passes away, the stuff we've been doing over the past couple of weeks and over the season."

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  1. i dont know about anyone else...but that loss made me a bit sick. I was so proud of how we played but dont understand what happened on our last offensive play. Why would we try that lob pass inside. We played awesome ball against a great team and I hope we take it to the NCAAs. GO MWC

  2. The players did everything to win, but I think our coach let us down. This is the 5th or 6th loss in a row to the same team with the same players over the last two years. You've got game film of BYU beating SDST. twice this year, and as one respected former college player now espn commentator said was, "the way to beat SDST. is to play a zone." They only have 2 players that can hit a 3 point shot, Rajon and Gay. Make sure you close out on those 2 and they have a tough time scoring. The thing about Kruger is he never adjusts his strategy. Never will play 2 big guys even if were getting killed on the boards, never will play a zone even if the team beats you 6 times in a row. He will keep playing some asinine rotation for his big guys no matter how good Q. has been playing.

  3. I agree with you patticcus. I guess the question i have is why kruger would call that alley oop again coming out of another timeout. Steve and his staff had to be somewhat expecting it since we did it two other times coming out of timeouts earlier in the game. I think lon went to the well one to many times with that one. As much as lon could be the blame for in-game adjustments, some of the blame has to go to the staff. With the head coach being so focused in on his team, that's usually your assistants jobs to focus not only on your team but also the other team to make the necessary adjustments. I think their has always been question marks about lon's staff.

  4. Kruger was right the lob was open. Bellfield just threw it on a straight line. No where near high enough. What upset me is we did it with about 25 seconds left to go in the game and about 17 to go on the shot clock. Why not wait until the shot clock is under 10 so if you do blow it SDSU has to scramble to score? Pretty bad end of game management. Hello 8-9 game.

  5. Ditto gumby. The game ended with 3 bad plays in a row: the reach in by Q, the bad lob by O (and too soon) and the anticipation of the screen by O that allowed Gay to run by him. Very hard for me to agree with Ryan that SDSU 'snuffed' out the lob when it was a horrible pass. I know you don't want to call Oscar out but the truth is the truth.

  6. The "lob" play was fine. It would have been better if the clock was a little shorter but Chace was wide open and it was a very good opportunity. Malcolm Thomas made an excellent defensive play and Gay hit an amazing shot.

  7. I don't have any problem with the last play but with the last mins. of coaching. The problem wasn't the last seconds but the fact we were in that position to have to make a play like that in the last sec. Thomas should have been in way earlier instead of letting him cool off.
    If history is any indicator of the future we win tourney games when we win our own tournament and lose first round when we don't win mwc tourney. I'm pretty sure that has been the case since the 90's.
    With the right match ups were can go all the way still. We are good enought.

    Rebels are still the best.

  8. It's too bad the Rebels lost. I was looking forward to seeing "Super Mouth" Tre'Von get Jimmered again! The kid just doesn't know when to shut up.

  9. Tre'Von never was "Jimmered," Pipes.

    If you were paying attention, you'd have seen that Tre'Von is very effective at guarding The Jimmer. Tre' held him to something like 1 of 7 when he was guarding Him in the first matchup.

    Save your high-and-mighty garbage for the WCC.

  10. It was a good play, Chase had a clear path for the lob but the pass was too low.

  11. Hey Pipes got a fun stat for you here. Jimmer shot just 37% from the field against UNLV in his 3 years as a starter. 47% against the rest of the teams he played against. And yes that is with Tre being the main defender on him. Also he has a losing record against UNLV. Go enjoy running to the WCC and hope maybe you can win a confrence tourny over there because we all know you guys cant do it in the MWC. Now shut up and go drink some coffee

  12. Hardest loss of the season to swallow. The lob-pass mishap from Bellfield was one problem (led to the DJ gay 2-pt lead), but further aggravating things was our last play with 5 seconds left - pass should have been to the unguarded QT (for the tie) rather than the heavily guarded 3-point attempt. Good effort from the Rebels, look forward to us winning, probably 7-8 seed.

    www.RebelReign.com

  13. The design of the lob play does not bother me, but the execution does.

    Having Tre set the back-pick was perfect, to properly defend that play, Tre's defender needs to "chuck" that cutter. If that had been done, Tre would have been open. Because Tre's man failed to do that, Chace was open. Keeping Thomas on the ball side block prevented any weak side help, which also would sound. As Ryan mentioned, the hope was that if the lob wasn't there, Tre would then get the ball and attack, with Chace spotting up in the corner. All of this is sound design, but sometimes the players simply need to make the play!

  14. I think all three MWC teams have a good chance of making the Sweet 16. At least when I'm at Soundclash tonight I won't be missing the game.

  15. The Rebels probably wouldn't have been in this situation if the coach hadn't sat Thomas for most of the second half, even though he was our only big producing. Krugar doesn't seem to be able to make any halftime adjustments. As for the last play, mid-range jumpers were going in. Why lob into a congested area against better and bigger athletes.

  16. Didn't make any halftime adjustments? Yeah you're right, they didn't come back from a 10 point defecit to take the lead late in the game. Kruger is the best coach in this conference and Fisher has the best athletes in the conference. The play was a great one and it's easy to question it because it didn't work out but had the pass been a little higher the outcome would have been much different. For those of you who want to run Kruger out of town, just try and remember the post tark / pre kruger era when unlv basketball wasn't all that important to these fair weather fans that we have in this town. We're going to fight hard in the tourney and that's a whole lot more than what we could have said about 8 years ago.

  17. I agree about the lob play, it was there, Oscar just didn't execute the pass, and Thomas made a very good play to intercept. Just too many mistakes, the intentional foul at the end of the half was devastating, and it does seem like the Aztecs are in their heads a bit. the first 15 minutes of the game you could see the fear on the Rebels faces/body language.

    (I do think that a zone every now and then might help us against bigger teams like the Aztecs, however)

  18. We are playing Harvard. lol
    http://www.cbssports.com/collegebasketba...

  19. That would be awesome a game in Tuscon may be worth the drive and a potential second round rematch against Louisville.

  20. Its just a bad match up. But this is the last time we see most of those guys. Doubt Kawhi comes back when Gay, White, and Thomas are all gone.

    But, this team is playing well, and depending on the draw, has a legitimate chance at winning a few games. Unlike the team 2 years ago, they didn't back down and are playing their best ball of the year. Good Luck guys. Shut up the talking heads on the east coast.

  21. Some encouraging news, Rebel fans. Both Palm and yes even Lunardi have UNLV as a 6 seed in the latest bracket projections.

    http://espn.go.com/mens-college-basketba...

    http://www.cbssports.com/collegebasketba...

    Who do I write to help make this happen?

  22. Espn has UNLV as a 6 seed ATM.

  23. Ughh, we're an 8 seed. :(

  24. Yep, we're screwed. At least the NCAA committee has a sense of humor. Why don't they just save time and put us up against KU in the opening round every time we make it. hilarious.

  25. Seriously, no respect AT ALL for the MWC. But UAB gets in...is the NCAA trying to ruin the one good thing it does?

  26. We should be able to beat Illinois. Maybe Kansas will play like they did last year in the second round.

  27. Southwest region is remarkably tougher than the other two regions. Very uneven bracket. Whoever is on the committee shouldn't be there next year.

  28. I don't think so. KU will be even more motivated this time. It's like they still think Tark is the coach.

  29. We can play with any team in the country. I think we could beat Kansas.

  30. Illinois is a very, very tough 9 seed. Wow.

  31. Illinois is AWFUL. What sucks is that we have to play Kansas in the 2nd round. No way we should be seeded lower than UCLA.
    Maybe Big Mikey Lange will travel and get our Rebs to beat Kansas with his bleacher chatter.