Mountain West Tournament:

Blog: Bennett scores 23 as Rebels advance past injured Air Force

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV’s Mike Moser yells after teammate Bryce Dejan-Jones drew an Air Force foul during their Mountain West Conference Tournament game Wednesday, March 13, 2013 at the Thomas & Mack.

Updated Wednesday, March 13, 2013 | 2:01 p.m.

MWC Tournament: UNLV vs. Air Force

UNLV's Mike Moser yells after teammate Bryce Dejan-Jones drew an Air Force foul during their Mountain West Conference Tournament game Wednesday, March 13, 2013 at the Thomas & Mack. Launch slideshow »

UNLV 72, Air Force 56

Game over

Anthony Bennett scored 23 points, Bryce Dejean-Jones chipped in 12 and UNLV ran away with an easy quarterfinal victory against Air Force with a 72-56 victory at the Thomas & Mack Center. The Rebels will play Friday night at 8:30 p.m. against the winner of Colorado State vs. Fresno State.

Bennett dazzled on offense, hitting jumpers and finishing passes inside with big dunks, but the game was never the same after Air Force's Michael Lyons went down with a knee injury in the first three minutes. Air Force would eventually lost center Taylor Broekhuis, too, docking them two starters on a day they may have needed six of them.

The Rebels played very well, probably good enough to win no matter who was playing for the Falcons. We'll never know, though.

UNLV played only eight players and only seven played more than four minutes. That's a tight, typical March lineup that could be an indication of what we'll see from UNLV coach Dave Rice moving forward.

Check lasvegassun.com all day for updates from the tournament, including full coverage of the Rebels' victory.

UNLV 59, Air Force 41

7:20 remaining in the second half

UNLV is denying almost every Air Force attempt in the lane and the Falcons aren't hitting nearly enough 3-pointers to make up for it. The Rebels are primed to move on to the semifinals Friday night.

After scoring 11 points in the first four minutes of the second half, Air Force has scored just 10 since then. It's just an incomplete team without those two starters and the Falcons can't make up the difference.

As for the Rebels, Anthony Bennett and Bryce Dejean-Jones are both playing great offense while Khem Birch continues to dominate inside. This was a lot easier than it should have been but UNLV would have had a great chance to win playing this way against a healthy Falcons team.

UNLV 44, Air Force 31

15:48 remaining in the second half

Air Force has come at firing but just as he did in the first half, Anthony Bennett is playing great in the opening stretch of the second half. He's already got eight points, including a couple of 3-pointers.

Bennett's only limitation today is himself as he's had to ask to come out of the game. It's clear UNLV isn't going to get this type of effort from him for an entire game, but it should be more than enough for today and most other nights. When he's playing hard, good things happen.

UNLV 33, Air Force 20

Halftime

Khem Birch has eight points and UNLV surged ahead with a 12-0 run to take a 33-20 halftime lead against an Air Force team that's had at least four players go down with injuries.

The most important injury is to leading scorer Michael Lyons, who bumped knees with Bryce Dejean-Jones and looks very unlikely to return. Starting center Taylor Broekhuis has also spent most of the first half in the locker room after bumping his head and reserves Kyle Green and Justin Hammonds have both limped off the court at point or another, too.

Without Lyons, Air Force's offense has been abysmal, committing 13 turnovers and shooting 36 percent from the floor. A few 3s just before halftime actually helped make the score a little more respectable.

The Rebels are dominating in transition and in the paint, making it all the more strange that they've attempted 13 3-pointers, hitting only two of them. Without Broekhuis the Rebels' bigs can do whatever they want inside, so each 3 no matter how open, is probably not the best shot UNLV could have had.

If they pound the ball inside more, UNLV is going to have no trouble getting the victory today. Even if they don't the Rebels are going to win as long as the Falcons don't catch fire from 3 and Lyons doesn't return. This isn't the challenge it could have been, which is unfortunate, but the most important thing to Rebels fans is that they advance. And that's all but guaranteed at this stage.

UNLV 21, Air Force 7

7:40 remaining in the first half

The Rebels are on a 12-0 run as the Falcons struggle to find any kind of offensive rhythm without leading scorer Michael Lyons. His knee injury is by far the most important thing to happen in this game.

UNLV has forced 12 (12!!) turnovers and it's hitting 9-for-15 inside the three-point line. As long as Lyons isn't in the game, and his return is questionable, the Rebels have a great chance to win this going away.

UNLV 9, Air Force 7

14:55 remaining in the first half

First-team all-Mountain West player Michael Lyons, Air Force's leading scorer, left the game less than three minutes in with an apparent knee injury after bumping into UNLV's Bryce Dejean-Jones. He has yet to return from the locker room and may not be back today, which would be a huge loss for the Falcons.

Then at the break center Taylor Broekhuis had to go back with a trainer because he may have been bleeding. Other than that things are going OK for the Falcons because on one possession they were able to draw three fouls plus Anthony Bennett, who started the game playing very well, got tired and asked out of the game. Of course, UNLV replaces him with Defensive Player of the Year Khem Birch, so it's an upgrade at that end of the floor.

It’s not like speculation hasn’t been going most of the season, but this time of year is when more questions about players’ futures begin to come up.

Not only for guys like freshman Anthony Bennett, who’s assuredly gone to the NBA, but even for someone like senior Anthony Marshall, who probably can’t help but think about the workouts he’ll have with organizations coming up after the season.

Junior Mike Moser said it’s natural for the mind to occasionally drift to those thoughts. However, to keep the priority on the tournament at hand he has a simple solution.

“If you don’t win games you’re going to have limited options anyway,” Moser said.

Well, yes and no, but point taken. Whether they’re about to play professionally or just trying to keep the season going, every Rebel would benefit from a victory today at noon against Air Force in the opening quarterfinal game of the Mountain West tournament at the Thomas & Mack Center.

Moser is one of those guys with an uncertain future, admitting, “it’s a possibility” these are his last games at UNLV (Sidenote: My guess is it’s far more than a possibility). To Moser’s point about winning, there’s already a lot of game film on each player and the individual workouts are probably more important anyway. But there’s something to be said for winning on one-and-done stages and the extra exposure that comes with advancing.

Now, this isn’t to say that the Rebels’ only motivation to go out to win today or any day is to improve their draft stock. That’s not it, but let’s not be naïve and pretend nobody’s thinking about their post-grad life. They are human, after all.

In an ideal world, what that motivation would mean is that every player buys into trying to play with the same fire and execution as they had in the home victory against San Diego State, for example.

Everyone playing together, and not like the selfish play like Saturday against Fresno State, is the only chance UNLV has to succeed.

THE OTHER SIDE

Air Force projected lineup

G — Todd Fletcher, 6-2, Sr, 9.9 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 3.6 apg

G — Michael Lyons, 6-5, Sr, 17.6 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 2.3 apg

F — DeLovell Earls, 6-5, So, 5 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 42.1 3fg%

F — Mike Fitzgerald, 6-6, Sr, 11.4 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 86.9 ft%

F — Taylor Broekhuis, 6-10, Sr, 6.9 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 52.4 fg%

Sixth man — G, Kyle Green, 6-2, Sr, 3.3 ppg, 1 rpg, 78.6 ft%

*Stats are from conference games only

Regular season:

1/12 at UNLVRebels fit into some different roles and fend off Air Force in overtime

2/13 at Air ForceUNLV coach expects his program to ‘grow up’ after no-show at Air Force

Kenpom line: UNLV -9

Vegas line: UNLV -9.5

Bern’s pick: UNLV 72, Air Force 68

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

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  1. "UNLV is playing unbelievable defense in this game." -CBS Sports

    Indeed.

  2. The defense and effort level were excellent today. Also, the frontcourt played exceptional today.