UNLV basketball:

Moser set to return for Rebels’ conference opener at New Mexico

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV forward Mike Moser dunks on New Mexico during the first half of their game Saturday, Feb. 18, 2012 at The Pit in Albuquerque, N.M.

ALBUQUERQUE — Asked enough times, Mike Moser will eventually tire of coming up with different ways to say the same thing. Does he feel ready to play? Yes. Does he feel 100 percent? For sure. How about 110 percent?

“Whatever you want to call it, I’m good to go,” Moser said. “I feel just as good as I did before I hurt it.”

UNLV coach Dave Rice announced after Tuesday’s practice that Moser will be available for the 24th-ranked Rebels’ (13-2) trip to No. 25 New Mexico (13-2) on Wednesday at 7 p.m. on CBS Sports Network. It will be Moser’s second game since dislocating his right elbow Dec. 9 at Cal, and his first since playing 12 spot minutes in the Dec. 29 loss at North Carolina.

Moser clearly wasn’t at full capacity for that game. Since then he hasn’t missed a practice and looks more comfortable with each passing day.

Rice said he didn’t know yet what type of role Moser would play against the Lobos, just that Moser would be available off the bench. It’s obviously not an ideal situation for Moser, who said it’s tougher to prepare for a game not knowing his role, but he’s just happy to get back on the court.

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UNLV trainer Dave Tomchek leads forward Mike Moser off the floor after a Cal player fell on his arm during the first half of their game Sunday, Dec. 9, 2012 at Haas Pavilion in Berkeley, Calif.

Not only does Moser add some experience to a team that lacks it, especially on the road, he also creates matchup and preparation problems for UNM coach Steve Alford, who already had his hands full trying to plan for UNLV freshman Anthony Bennett.

“We’ve played great teams and great players through 15 games,” said Alford, whose Lobos rank 12th in the RPI and 14th in strength of schedule. “But watching things on tape the last 7-10 days, this is the best team we’ve played to date and Anthony Bennett’s the best player we’ve had to go against to date. That’s probably the best compliment I can give them.”

This is the first Mountain West game for four of the Rebels’ top six scorers, including Bennett. Moser and senior point guard Anthony Marshall have both said they’ve talked to the newcomers about league play, and specifically this first game, but it’s something that can really only be understood firsthand.

“It will be similar to North Carolina,” Marshall said, “except 10 times more hostile.”

In other words, it will be unlike anything the Rebels have seen this year and, in some cases, their entire careers. Nothing that Bennett saw with Findlay Prep or Bryce Dejean-Jones went through at USC will compare to University Arena, which is better known as The Pit.

The last time UNLV was in Albuquerque, it was unceremoniously ousted from the NCAA Tournament by Colorado. And the last time the Rebels faced the Lobos in their home arena, UNLV went into halftime with a one-point lead and left with a 20-point loss. Things can go bad quickly against a really good team that plays with a distinct home-court advantage, and that’s exactly who the Lobos are. UNM is 84-11 in The Pit under Alford, though one of those losses did come earlier this year to South Dakota State.

Despite losing leading scorer and rebounder Drew Gordon to graduation, the Lobos haven’t missed a beat and once again have a case as the best team in the league. Alex Kirk, who missed last season after having back surgery, has stepped into the void, averaging 11.3 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. Like Bennett, Kirk can stretch the defense out to the perimeter.

Other than Kirk, all of New Mexico’s key contributors this season averaged at least 13 minutes per game last year. It’s an experienced team with scoring threats all over the court, including Kendall Williams (14.9 ppg, 2.1 assist-to-turnover ratio) at point guard and Tony Snell (11.1 ppg) on the wing.

The best news for the Lobos, which is a nightmare for the rest of the league, is that none of their top five scorers are seniors. Williams, Snell and forward Cameron Bairstow (7.8 ppg, 5.1 rpg) are juniors while Kirk and guard Hugh Greenwood (7.4 ppg, 5.1 rpg) are sophomores. Next year UNM also still has current junior Demetrius Walker (5.8 ppg) and it will add Kansas transfer Merv Lindsay.

Put that type of talent and experience together on a court and you’ve got a great recipe for success, especially when that court is in The Pit.

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Colorado State fans rush the court after upsetting UNLV 66-59 Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012 at Moby Arena in Ft. Collins.

“It’s all gloomy and dark in there; the fans are cussing and yelling at you,” Marshall said. “As a player, those are the type of games you live for. There’s nothing like going to an opponent's house and hushing the crowd.”

Last year, the Rebels went into several road venues, including The Pit, with similar plans and fell short, including watching four consecutive crowds — Wyoming, TCU, New Mexico and Colorado State — storm the court after upsetting UNLV.

The bulk of the Rebels’ current rotation wasn’t on the bench for any of those games. This is a chance to start fresh, to forge a new identity in road conference games.

“New Mexico is going to be a helluva challenge,” Moser said. “It’s good to have a healthy fear of everybody, and I definitely have a healthy fear of this conference.”

Taylor Bern can be reached at 948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Taylor on Twitter at twitter.com/taylorbern.

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  1. For UNLV to win tonight...

    Less than 13 turnovers
    Moser Doesn't get more than 7-8 minutes (not up to game speed)
    Bennett goes 20-20
    Either Katin, Marsh or Jones steps up and drops 15+
    Birch needs blocks
    Create turnovers
    Tenacious perimeter defense against Snell and Williams

    That's not gonna happen. UNM by 8-10.

  2. The conference gauntlet begins. It's going to be really tough for any team to come away with wins this season, no matter who they are playing or where they are playing.

  3. Apparently James hasn't watched New Mexico play this year.

    Sure their defense plays with a lot more passion than ours, but they are SLOPPY on offense. Greenwood turns the ball over like crazy when he's pressured.

    If the rebels are able force New Mexico to take off balance shots, and keep pressure on the ball handler, they could pull it off.

    Even if they lose it doesn't mean the end of the world like some people will treat it. We know New Mexico is a good team, and the pit is a tough place to get a road win.

    Either way... Go Rebs!

  4. Whatever happens this is going to be an excellent measuring stick for the Rebs. Every game makes me nervous so I really do not know what is going to happen. Going in and beating UNM in the Pit would be a terrific way to start off conference. But even if they do not we all know that most MWC teams will take an L in the Pit. Time to see what the Rebs are made of and time for UNM to get an up close and personal look at A Beast! Runnin Rebels!

  5. Greenwood sounds like our guards. It's sounding like its going to be an extremely sloppy game. But Snell and Williams are efficient 3pt shooters...much more than ours. We might have a slight edge in the frontcourt, but then again, Kirk might have a shot blocking fiasco against Birch. Somebody better tame Bryce Jones and tell him to stop playing so erratically. This loss won't be the end of the world, but going 1-3 to open conference play could be very close to the nail in the coffin for UNLV. 14-5 (barring we beat Air Force) will put UNLV on the bubble. Do I think they'll miss the tournament? I don't think so if they go undefeated at home and beat UNR and Fresno on the road...giving them a 10-6 overall record and 23-8 entering the tourney...they should be safe. Anything worse could be trouble because Boise and Wyoming could very well finish ahead of them also. Colorado state in consideration, too.

  6. Not sure how losing @UNM, @SDSU and @CSU would be a "nail in the coffin." Those are the top 3 teams in the conference other than UNLV. If it is expected that the best teams win all their road games, it's hardly a nail in the coffin. If we get swept all 3 of those games, yet sweep all three of those teams at home, we're all squared again.

    Alex Kirk is good, but he's not very fast/athletic. If he has to come out and guard Bennett on the perimeter, he will really struggle, especially if Bennett's jumper is on tonight.

    It important for us to get off to a good start tonight. Not having played for more than a week could hurt UNM is they have to knock some rust off early. Should be an exciting game.

  7. "If it is expected that the best teams win all their ROAD games..."

    I meant HOME games.

  8. Agree with you Mike. I was thinking that if we were 2-2 in the first four games that would be very acceptable. If we are 1-3 that would certainly be disappointing but SDSU, UNM, and CSU are going to be very tough at home. I am always much more concerned about how we play. The way we lost to UNM and CSU away last year was much more troubling. If we go in and lose but play well and show improvement from our last away game against UNC I will be a little more optimistic. We go in and lay an egg like we did last year in the Pit, and that would make me alot more depressed about a loss! Certainly way too early to be placing us "on the bubble" if we start 1-3. Lots more conference games to go.