Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Friday, March 8, 2013 | 2 a.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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- Instant Analysis: Rebels continue late-season charge by rallying past Boise State for hard-fought win
- All UNLV men's basketball coverage
There are two numbers, forever linked by a dash, that will more or less define the careers of UNLV seniors Anthony Marshall and Justin Hawkins. Neither is yet a certainty, though one of them — 4 — is a foregone conclusion.
Nine days from now the Rebels will hear their name called on Selection Sunday, either as the Mountain West tournament champ or an at-large pick, making it the team’s fourth straight trip to the NCAA Tournament. No Rebel has played in four consecutive NCAA Tournaments since Chris Jeter and current assistant coach Stacey Augmon from 1988-91.
“That’s a big deal,” said UNLV coach Dave Rice, who went to the last two of those tournament trips..
That alone is a great accomplishment, making 4 a number to remember about the two guards — one local kid, the other from Los Angeles — who have appeared in 263 of a possible 264 games and together helped compile an overall 98-34 record entering Saturday afternoon’s Senior Day game against Fresno State (10-18, 4-11) at 3 p.m. on Time Warner Cable SportsNet.
“Everything that we’ve accomplished here in our four years is something to be proud of,” said Hawkins, who will be in the starting lineup alongside Marshall and Quintrell Thomas, who joined the team from Kansas the same year as his fellow seniors but sat out that season due to NCAA transfer rules.
The game could also be the career regular season finale for freshman Anthony Bennett and juniors Mike Moser and Carlos Lopez-Sosa. As a projected lottery pick, Bennett is all but guaranteed to jump to the NBA and Moser may test those waters, too. Lopez-Sosa, a redshirt junior reserve, will have the choice to return, leave early with his degree or transfer and play immediately by taking graduate courses not offered at UNLV.
Those are decisions for later, however, and don’t forget there’s another number, too. The one that precedes that 4 and the dash, the one that measures your ability to do more than travel to a neutral site to pick up a participation ribbon.
In three previous trips to the NCAA Tournament the Rebels are 0-3, losing to Northern Iowa, Illinois and Colorado in order. If they get bounced from the Round of 64 once more, Hawkins and Marshall would be the first Rebels to compete in four consecutive NCAA Tournaments and not win a single game.
That 0 could define their legacy just as much, if not more than, the 4.
“I don’t want us to be remembered as the guys who got to the tournament,” Marshall said. “I want to be remembered as the guys who helped lead UNLV to the Sweet Sixteen and stuff like that. I want us to be remembered as winners, and so far in our (postseason) career we haven’t been that.”
In three previous seasons the Rebels have finished third in the Mountain West each time and advanced to just one league tournament final, losing to San Diego State at the Thomas & Mack Center in 2010. With a victory against the Bulldogs the Rebels would clinch the No. 2 seed and face either an immediate rematch with Fresno State or Wyoming.
While the Mountain West tournament may not seem like a big deal, there’s a lot on the line, at least mentally. Not only could it help with potential NCAA Tournament seeding but the Rebels are really happy with how they’re playing right now, entering Saturday on a five-game winning streak. If they could take care of business Saturday and then win the tournament in their home arena, they would start play in the big tournament on a nine-game streak, something not accomplished since the national championship team.
“We had our highs and our lows this year, but I feel like right now we’re in a real good spot,” Hawkins said. “Even though it’s the end of the season I feel like we’ve got a whole lot of basketball left to be played.”
That’s what everyone around the program is hoping for. Marshall said he doesn’t see any reason the Rebels can’t be the last team standing, an optimistic view plenty around the country would disagree with. That’s what UNLV should believe, though.
Despite three straight years of winnable postseason games ending in disappointment, they believe things will be different this time, and a lot of that has to do with the seniors who will start together Saturday in the back court. Despite Hawkins' offensive disappearance in conference play he's still looked to as a leader, and Marshall played one of the best all-around games of his career earlier this week.
They’ve known each other the past eight years, since just before both of them started high school. Each guy came to UNLV for different reasons, but they have the same goal before they exit. Saturday comes the pageantry, and after that the final chapter begins.
“I’m not ready to be done being a Runnin’ Rebel,” Marshall said. “I just want to keep this going as long as I can.”