Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Monday, Feb. 20, 2012 | 2 a.m.
- The Rebels go cold in the second half, allowing New Mexico to cruise to a 65-45 victory
- By the Numbers: UNLV’s 65-45 loss at New Mexico
- BOX SCORE: New Mexico 65, UNLV 45
- The Rebels get another shot at first place with nationally televised game at New Mexico
- UNLV’s first practice at Mendenhall Center a chance to move past ‘disgusting’ loss
- 2011-12 UNLV Men's Basketball Schedule
- All UNLV Men's Basketball Coverage
As each missed shot fell harmlessly toward the court at New Mexico on Saturday, UNLV fell further and further from a goal it has talked about all year.
With four games to play, the Rebels are tied with San Diego State at two games behind the Lobos. A conference race that a week ago was shaping up to be one of the most exciting in the country is now all but over.
“We think that the deck is probably stacked against us a little bit, but stranger things have happened in this conference,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said.
It’s not impossible, sure, but take a look at New Mexico’s remaining schedule: at Colorado State, at TCU, Air Force and Boise State. It’s hard to imagine the Lobos, who have won their last seven games by an average of nearly 21 points per game, going worse than 3-1 in that stretch. Even if they falter, though, the Rebels have to take care of business in order to take advantage.
“As a team, we can’t worry about what they’re doing,” UNLV junior guard Anthony Marshall said.
New Mexico (22-4, 8-2) has found its stride at the perfect time, and after a week that included top-15 victories against No. 11 UNLV (22-6, 6-4) and No. 13 San Diego State (20-6, 6-4), it figures to vault into the rankings. Meanwhile, its victims, who are on a combined five-game losing streak, will likely fall to the 21-25 range.
In one week, the Mountain West’s top three teams have passed each other like cars going the opposite way down a street. However, they will all end up at the same destination.
For all of the panic after UNLV’s 1-3 record in the last week and a half, the Rebels are still an NCAA Tournament team. The difference now, says Sports Illustrated college basketball writer Andy Glockner, is just the way they will be viewed.
Last week, UNLV was moving toward a possible No. 3 seed. Two more road losses have tempered that and given the national audience an even clearer picture that the Rebels are a different team outside of Las Vegas.
“When the committee is presented a resume where every loss is on the road and every road win looks very difficult, I think they’re going to get dinged for that,” Glockner said.
Still, it’s not the freefall to the 8-9 game that many fans are fearing. On Sunday, Glockner hadn’t yet put together his bracket for SI.com, but said he didn’t anticipate moving UNLV any lower than a No. 5 seed. The Rebels’ victories against North Carolina and Pac-12 co-leading California still hold weight. And while Illinois’ current 1-8 stretch in the Big Ten has minimized that victory a bit, the Illini still have three games against ranked opponents, which could in turn help UNLV.
And the Rebels have a few more chances to help themselves, too.
Including the Mountain West tournament, UNLV could potentially play seven more games, six of them at the Thomas & Mack Center. The one road game in that mix is Feb. 29 at Colorado State.
Considering that most of the Rebels’ problems, and all of their losses, have come on the road, it’s not inconceivable that they could get almost everything that they’ve lost this week.
“The onus will be on them at home to succeed in the conference tournament,” Glockner said. “If they do win three games there, you’re talking about a seven-game winning streak to end the season. They could be right back where they were before this two-game losing streak, but it’s going to take some work for them to get there.”
UNLV will put on blinders and hope that New Mexico stumbles, but realistically the Rebels lost the regular-season conference title on Saturday. But that’s it.
The greater goals are still out there waiting for UNLV to take them.