Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Friday, March 9, 2012 | 2 a.m.
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Las Vegas Sun sports reporters Ray Brewer, Taylor Bern and Case Keefer look at UNLV's eight-point victory over Wyoming in the first round of the conference tournament. They also discuss whether UNLV is capable of living up to their status as a favorite in tomorrow's game against New Mexico.
- The Sun's Mountain West Conference tournament section
- Rebels rely on defense in opening round victory over Wyoming
- Instant Analysis: While it wasn’t pretty, UNLV overcomes failed attempt by Wyoming to slow pace
- BOX SCORE: UNLV 56, Wyoming 48
- Demetrius Walker pushes New Mexico to a 79-64 victory over Air Force
- Colorado State puts itself firmly in the NCAA bubble
- San Diego State survives scare from Boise State, advances on Franklin’s buzzer-beater
- LIVE BLOG: UNLV, other top seeds all advance in Mountain West Conference quarterfinals
- Sports books peg UNLV as tournament favorite, brace for ‘start of the madness’
- Mountain West tournament title won’t prove anything, but could improve UNLV’s seeding
- 2011-12 UNLV Men's Basketball Schedule
- All UNLV Men's Basketball Coverage
Mike Moser, the man who single-handedly outscored Wyoming in the first half Thursday night, had to chuckle a little bit when asked about surrendering a big lead again.
Was he surprised? No. Frustrated? Sure. Did he expect it? Sort of. Does he have the answer? Not one better than you or I.
“It’s kind of our MO right now,” Moser said. “As much as we try to fight through it and keep playing, we’ve got to be prepared for stuff like that.”
No. 20 UNLV (26-7) advanced to Friday’s semifinals of the Mountain West tournament with a 56-48 victory against Wyoming that included three parts dominance and one part ‘Not again.’ That’s a familiar recipe, and it also resulted in a familiar result inside the Thomas & Mack Center. Their last four home games, including last Saturday’s tilt with the Cowboys have played out in similar fashion.
“We do take a lot of confidence in the fact that we’ve found a way to come back and make big plays at the end of games,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said.
Rice also pointed out that the Rebels may not have to worry about many double-digit leads the rest of the way. They take on second-seeded New Mexico Friday night at 8:30, and could play either San Diego State or Colorado State in the championship Saturday afternoon.
You can’t lose a double-digit lead that you never have. It may come up again, but considering New Mexico outscored UNLV 39-18 the last time they played a half of basketball, that’s a problem Rice would gladly accept.
He would also take another dominant performance from Moser, who showed why he was considered a leading contender for the conference player of the year before a four-game swoon ended those talks.
Nine minutes into an ugly first half, Moser went on his own 8-2 run, including a nifty coast-to-coast rebound and layup that was just as impressive as any single play he’s made this season. He finished the first half with 18 points and went on to record 22 points and 14 rebounds, his 15th double-double of the season.
Moser’s first basket of the second half didn’t come until the 2:50 mark, well after Wyoming woke up and tried to steal a victory.
Moser said that his offensive absence was due to a change in the offense that made him more of a decoy, which allowed players like Anthony Marshall and Oscar Bellfield, who became the all-time MWC assists leader, to step in and open up a 22-point lead. Rice said that’s partly right.
“I think the big part of it was that Wyoming changed the way they were guarding him,” Rice said. “One thing we’ve always done is we try to find the open man.”
And after torching them for 18 points in the first half, the Cowboys wouldn’t be doing their job if he had enough room to breathe, let alone get a shot.
Wyoming set tournament-record lows in the first half for points scored (11) and shooting percentage (.125). That was bound to get better, and it did, right about the time UNLV’s offense started to get into a lull. That familiar spot in the second half when an apparent UNLV rout turns into a competitive contest. On the road it turns into a loss (see: TCU). In the Mack, it just makes a lot of people uncomfortable.
“It was ‘Are we going to recognize it and put it to a halt?’ We cut it close, but we finally did,” Moser said. “Almost tricked it off again after we weathered the storm.”
Wyoming got as close as six thanks to a 14-1 run, but their comeback took too long and UNLV was able to put the game away with a couple of timely baskets and free throws. The Rebels won’t survive a stretch like that against New Mexico, but they also have some extra motivation going into that matchup. The second-half beatdown on Feb. 18 is very much at the forefront of their minds.
“We’ve had that bad taste in our mouth for a long time now,” Moser said. “Getting back on the court against them is definitely going to get our blood going.”
Marshall, who finished with eight points and 10 rebounds, said he has wanted to play the Lobos since the final buzzer sounded. The only question is what the Rebels are going to do to make things go their way this time around.
“New Mexico’s such an explosive team, we’ve got to go back and (study) them,” Rice said.
In their most recent matchup, Rice thought he had a matchup advantage with backup guard Reggie Smith against New Mexico’s Jamal Fenton, but Smith’s foul trouble limited that plan of attack. Smith hasn’t played the last two games — Rice said he wanted to keep the rotation at nine but hasn’t lost confidence in his sophomore — but that option is there if Rice wants to try to go that way again.
The biggest challenge is how to contain the biggest player, senior forward Drew Gordon. Maybe UNLV will use double teams or try to shut down everybody around Gordon. He went off for 27 points and 20 rebounds the last time against the Rebels, and they’re more aware of that than even their pattern of blowing second-half leads.
“The thing we do remember is that they put it on us at the Pit,” Rice said. “That part’s pretty fresh in our minds.”
Moser was less a decoy than a ghost in that game. He scored eight points, all early, then was a nonfactor.
He’s got an answer for that one. You saw it in the first half Thursday.