Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Friday, March 15, 2013 | 10:45 p.m.
- BOX SCORE: UNLV75, Colorado State 65
- BLOG: UNLV beats Colorado State, 75-65, in advancing to Mountain West Conference finals
- Rebels preparing for ‘electric’ semifinals Friday night at the Mack
- Rebels wallop injured Falcons to advance to MWC semifinals
- Instant Analysis: Could the Rebels have their swagger back after 16-point league tournament win against Air Force?
- Blog: Bennett scores 23 as Rebels advance past injured Air Force
- UNLV’s big men will try to beef up production as Rebels begin tournament play
- UNLV Extras: Writer reveals his all-Mountain West selections
- All UNLV men's basketball coverage
- All Mountain West Conference tournament coverage
Just think if Katin Reinhardt played like he did in the first half Friday all season.
Two days ago, the freshman shooting guard nearly put up a bagel in the Mountain West Conference tournament quarterfinals, finishing 1 for 10 shooting in a game that would have destroyed the confidence of most young players.
Just not this young player.
Friday night, he had arguably his best game for UNLV. Finally, he was that outside shooting threat everyone expected, making 4 of 5 of his first-half 3-pointers against Colorado State in the tournament semifinals to give UNLV a big-time boost in a 75-65 victory.
Reinhardt was a top-50 recruit last year out of Mater Dei in Southern California and a major get for coach Dave Rice’s first UNLV recruiting class. While his initial year with the Rebels hasn’t always been smooth, he showed Friday the potential is there.
Actually, it never left.
Reinhardt has struggled offensively for the first time in his life this season and those difficulties often led to some poor shots. So desperate to duplicate his high school success, Reinhardt often forced his shot and never really found his stroke in making just 35 percent of his 3-pointers.
That’s where you have to give Rice credit. Most coaches would have benched a freshman with that bad of a shot selection. Rice, however, gave him the green light to keep firing away.
The decision initially backfired as the struggles continued, but Rice didn’t flinch in keeping Reinhardt in the lineup.
After making just 2 of 18 shots in his last two games, Reinhardt scored a career-high 21 points against Colorado State. And even though he misfired on all four of his 3-point attempts in the second half, he never wavered in his confidence in taking the open shot.
Yes, the open shot.
Unlike the games when he was forcing the issue, Reinhardt’s misses in the second half were all solid looks. Maybe this was Reinhardt’s coming out party and the start of something good.
If anything, the team’s best shooter has found his touch. That, Rebel fans, is a good thing.
Here are some more observations from the game:
Rebel bench key: Quintrell Thomas and Savon Goodman didn’t play Wednesday in the quarterfinal victory against Air Force, but saw plenty of action against Colorado State with the Rebels in early foul trouble. It’s safe to say they were the Rebels’ unsung heroes. UNLV had 12 first-half fouls, forcing coach Dave Rice to rest his two most valuable players — freshman sensation Anthony Bennett, who picked up three first-half fouls, and senior point guard Anthony Marshall. Instead folding when Marshall, who plays virtually the entire game and facilitates the offense, went to the bench with about six minutes to play in the half, the Rebels went on a scoring run to lead by 11 points. And with Khem Birch and Anthony Bennett, the Rebels’ first two options in the post, benched with fouls, Thomas and Goodman held down the fort until halftime. They were excellent in defending the post, combined to fill the stat sheet with four rebounds, two blocks and two points, and most important, gave the Rebels a boost of energy. Give credit to the twosome for being ready when their number was called — Thomas played 21 minutes; Goodman 15. Goodman, a freshman, received a great reception from the home crowd when he first entered the game. Several have called for him to receive more playing time. Friday, he proved them right, finishing with four points and four rebounds. Thomas had five points and six rebounds. Not bad for two guys who didn’t see the court in the Rebels’ last game.
These three possessions changed the game: People who grew up in my generation remember the arcade game NBA Jam. Catch-phrases such as ‘He’s heating up’ and ‘He’s on fire’ described a player in the game who made two or three shots consecutively. I felt like yelling that during Anthony Bennett’s tremendous 3-point shooting display toward the end of the first half. He drained 3-pointers on three straight possession to give UNLV a double-digit lead and the Rebels never trailed again. When a player of his ability can’t miss, you give him the ball. Credit to UNLV for feeding the likely lottery pick in this year’s NBA Draft. On the pick-and-pop play, Bennett drilled open looks at the basket like they were layups. As soon as the ball left his hands, everyone in the arena sensed the shot was going in. If Bennett plays like this, UNLV will give top-seeded New Mexico everything it can handle in the tournament’s championship game. Here’s a good plan: Give AB the ball and let him takeover.
The championship game against New Mexico: Sure, Saturday’s Mountain West Conference championship game will be contested in UNLV’s home arena of the Thomas & Mack Center. But, make no doubt about it, the Rebels will be the road team and have to overcome a pro-New Mexico crowd. New Mexico fans own an overwhelming majority of tickets for the neutral site tournament, and they’ve packed the sold-out facility each day. Even when the New Mexico women play. Yes, they love their women’s basketball. Aside from the altitude, there will be several moments tomorrow when UNLV feels like it’s playing at the Pit in Albuquerque. Some would classify the Lobos’ fans as passionate. Others would call them obnoxious. Whatever the case, UNLV will have its hands full. And not only because of the crowd. New Mexico is the league’s regular season champions, has the league MVP in Kendall Williams and will be well-prepared by Steve Alford, arguably the league’s top coach.