Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Sunday, Dec. 9, 2012 | 7:45 p.m.
- BOX SCORE: UNLV 76, Cal 75
- Cal’s guards present great challenge for Rebels on the road
- Cal coach speaks highly of UNLV freshman Anthony Bennett
- UNLV Leftovers: Emptying out the notebook after the Rebels’ narrow win at Portland
- On the back of one player’s huge run, the Rebels survive a scare at Portland
- Moser a game-time decision for tonight’s game in his hometown
- Stellar first half buoys No. 24 UNLV as it holds off Hawaii 77-63 at home
- Rebels work well together in 85-57 home victory against UC Irvine
- Moser’s happy on offense helping the new Rebels find their own shots
- All UNLV men's basketball coverage
BERKELEY, Calif. — In the chaos of the final seconds at Haas Pavilion on Sunday evening, the Rebels didn’t panic and they didn’t freeze. No. 21 UNLV (7-1) did the simplest thing it could: make a game-winning play.
Specifically, it was senior forward Quintrell Thomas coming up with an offensive rebound and putback with 1.2 seconds left to help the Rebels escape at Cal (6-2) with a 76-75 victory.
“With this team in particular, we overthink things and things don’t work out well for us,” Thomas said. “Sometimes it’s better to just go out there and see what happens.”
The downside to this victory is the injury to junior forward Mike Moser, who suffered a dislocated elbow while diving for a loose ball in the first half. He played only five minutes, and that’s likely more than he’ll see in the next month or even longer.
Moser watched most of the rest of the game from the bench with a sling on his right arm. After the game, Moser declined to comment, but UNLV coach Dave Rice’s tone plus the reactions of many people who saw the play over and over on ESPNU indicate that the junior forward will be gone for the foreseeable future.
“It’s not good,” Rice said. “Specifically what that means I don’t know, but I would suspect we’ll be playing without him for some time.”
This puts Moser’s professional future in question, as Rice said it’s possible Moser would come back to Las Vegas next season. The only positive spin right now is that a reinforcement is on the way as sophomore Khem Birch is on pace to play his first UNLV game Dec. 17 at UTEP.
When Moser left the game, UNLV trailed by seven. The game was tied soon after that, and by halftime the Rebels charged into a seven-point lead of their own. Once again, the main catalyst was freshman Anthony Bennett, though Bryce Dejean-Jones came up big throughout the game in his best performance as a Rebel.
Dejean-Jones scored 22 points on 7-for-11 shooting while Bennett put up new career highs in points (25) and rebounds (13). A transfer from USC, Dejean-Jones said he knew three of Cal’s five starters in this game.
That familiarity brought out the game-day performance that belies the work he does in practice, where Dejean-Jones has always excelled. Though he was huge in getting UNLV into a position to win, Dejean-Jones had to watch the final 40 seconds from the bench after fouling out.
In the final minute, the teams changed leads four times and the score was twice tied. After Dejean-Jones’ foul, Cal’s Allen Crabbe hit 1 of 2 free throws for a one-point lead. Then Bennett countered with a baseline jumper despite a hand in his face.
The shot wasn’t nearly the spectacle he put on about 35 seconds earlier when he took Robert Thurman off the dribble from one corner and finished one-handed at the rim over another Cal defender for what was probably the highlight of his young career.
“It was in the moment,” Bennett said of the dunk. “I just gave a shot fake and he fell for it, so I went baseline and took off.”
UNLV had a one-point lead when Cal countered Bennett’s go-ahead jumper with what looked like a questionable foul on the Rebels’ Anthony Marshall. Cal guard Justin Cobbs stopped for a 15-foot jumper and tried to draw contact, looked like he failed to do so and then was bailed out with a whistle while falling to the floor after his shot attempt.
Unlike Tuesday’s game at Portland in which the Rebels got seemingly every call in the second half, this once forced them to survive the whistles. Cobbs hit both free throws, giving Cal a one-point lead with 11.4 seconds left.
The final play called for senior guard Justin Hawkins to inbound the ball to Marshall, who would get free in the back court off a Thomas screen. Freshman Katin Reinhardt was to go to one corner and draw a bottom zone defender toward him, and Thomas would set another screen to get Bennett free in the same short corner where he hit the go-ahead jumper.
It all went as planned until Bennett couldn’t get free along the baseline off the pick. Cal swarmed him and cluttered the paint, and when Marshall tried to improvise and penetrate, he was turned away.
The result for Marshall was a turnaround jumper that went nowhere near the basket, the type of shot you would jokingly take credit for as an assist in a rec-league game. That shot could have been it for UNLV. Cal was still smothering Bennett, who couldn’t get particularly close to the rebound.
But they still had Thomas, the big man who started the play at one end of the court, ran to the other and rewarded himself with a moment he won’t likely forget.
“Sometimes you’ve just got to escape,” Thomas said. “That’s what we came out here and did.”
Thomas said he could see the defense smothering Marshall and could tell the shot wouldn’t reach the rim. He positioned himself as best he could, short and left of the basket, which turned out to be perfect. When Thomas grabbed the ball he didn’t think about what to do. There was only the instinct to make a shot as quickly as possible.
“We didn’t run the play, that’s for sure,” Thomas said.
Moser was in the middle of the bench celebration for Thomas’ shot. The elation of this victory, the Rebels’ best of the season, is tempered only by the fact that Moser on the UNLV bench will be commonplace indefinitely.
That’s something the Rebels would rather not think about.