Jeremy Rincon / Special to the Sun
Saturday, March 2, 2013 | 5:50 p.m.
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CBSSports.com's Jeff Borzello joins Las Vegas Sun reporter Taylor Bern to discuss UNLV's seeding possibilities in Part One, and then at the 15:30 mark Taylor is joined by SI.com's Andy Glockner who offers his insight to the Mountain West's collective standing as we approach tournament time. All rights for the intro, outro and intermission music to alt-J, so go buy their album.
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- UNLV’s Bennett day-to-day with nerve pain in his left shoulder
- Las Vegas sports books benefitting from volatile college basketball season
- How does Rebels’ Bennett stack up against nation’s elite freshmen?
- All UNLV men's basketball coverage
RENO — The sound of the ball swishing through the net just sounds better at Lawlor Events Center than it does most places, UNLV’s Mike Moser said in explaining his breakout performance here Saturday afternoon.
He’s only half-serious, maybe even closer to a quarter. This is the kind of mood you could find Moser in after most victories last season and earlier this year. He’d wink or stare you down until breaking into a smile and his answers often started with "Ah, man" or ended with "For sure."
All of this is to say that in UNLV’s dominant 80-63 victory against UNR, its eighth straight in the series, Moser resembled his old form more closely than ever since his elbow injury, and maybe this year entirely.
“Ah man, it feels really good,” Moser said. “I’ve been so up and down with my injury and this or that. I’ve been waiting for a game to get me back in the flow, and I think this is the one that’s going to keep me going for the rest of the season.”
The Rebels drew up the first play to get Moser a shot, which he drained from the corner. He added a second 3-pointer in the first minute and closed the first half with another, his fourth, which put the Rebels (22-7, 9-5) up by 21 at the break.
Moser didn’t score again, but he already had a season-high 20 points and the Wolf Pack (12-16, 3-11) never got closer than 11 despite a combined 42 points from Deonte Burton and Malik Story.
“Moser hit shots he hasn’t hit all year,” said Story, who guarded the Rebels’ junior about half the time.
UNLV finished its most complete road game of the season, shooting 48.3 percent from the field, 55.6 percent from behind the three-point line and 87.5 percent at the free-throw line. All five starters scored in double figures and, perhaps more impressive than all of that, the Rebels committed only nine turnovers.
“That’s a huge number,” said UNLV coach Dave Rice, whose team had averaged 17.3 turnovers per game over the past three.
That’s the second-fewest turnovers in a game for the Rebels this season, trailing only seven against UC Irvine on Nov. 28. That game also contained Moser’s previous season high in points, when he scored 19 for the second time of the season. A week and a half later, his right elbow was bent into an unspeakable position in a win at Cal, and the rest of the season has been an uphill battle.
There have been glimmers of it, flashes of what Rice would call Mike Moser playing like the Mike Moser we used to see. The difference between those moments and what we saw Saturday may simply be the misfortune of another Rebel.
Last Saturday, freshman Anthony Bennett started but played only four minutes, allowing Moser to step back into the power forward spot and tally 11 points and seven rebounds in 23 minutes. That’s the most he played since the first game against UNR, and he surpassed it Saturday with a start and 29 minutes.
“I thought he played his most complete game of the season since the injury at Wyoming on Saturday,” Rice said. “He’s practiced well, his attitude has been great and he’s feeling good about his game.”
Against UNR, Bennett came off the bench with one point and seven rebounds in 17 minutes while Khem Birch rounded out the main interior rotation with 10 points, six rebounds and a career-high seven blocks.
Moser’s best games have almost all started with a shot on UNLV’s first possession. He’s a different player when he gets involved early, which he wasn’t able to do while coming off the bench the past eight games.
“I think it helped me starting today because I was able to get in a rhythm right away,” Moser said. “For sure.”
Just as important as the points was Moser’s ability to grab a rebound and start a fast break on his own. It’s amazing how much that changes what the Rebels can do when all of sudden it’s there consistently after being absent much of the past three months.
“It’s one of the best things Mike does,” Rice said, “and it makes us so hard to guard because of our ability to run the floor when we have a 4-man who can (grab a defensive rebound) and push it up.”
The Rebels’ other double-digit scorers included Bryce Dejean-Jones (17), Katin Reinhardt (14) and Anthony Marshall (11). The former two were the ones answering every attempted Wolf Pack comeback, especially Reinhardt, who grew the lead from 11 to 17 in about 30 seconds with a 3-pointer and an and-one jumper. UNR didn’t get any closer than 15 after that.
UNLV finished the road conference slate at 3-5, which didn’t seem likely after bleak nights at Fresno State and Air Force. The victory also keeps the Rebels in play for the 2 seed in the Mountain West tournament.
Entering Saturday night’s Colorado State game at Boise State, the Rebels are a half-game back of the Rams with the tiebreaker (a series split against New Mexico). The difference between the 2 and the 3 could be the difference between playing Wyoming and playing Air Force, the current 7 and 6 seeds, respectively.
There’s a much different feeling among the players right now than at the beginning of March last season, when things were trending the wrong way. A four-game winning streak with two very winnable games at home to close out the regular season breeds hope in the locker room, where they’re talking about playing their best basketball in March. Moser already held up his end.
“The team that peaks at the right time, they’re going to keep going,” Moser said. “… If we can keep this up — and come Mountain West tournament time, that’s when we peak and keep rolling from there — we’ll be just fine.”