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September 23, 2014

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Ray Brewer: From the Pressbox

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Instant Analysis: The better team won the Mountain West tournament, and that team wasn’t UNLV

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV guard Anthony Marshall drives to the basket against New Mexico during their Mountain West Conference Tournament championship game Saturday, March 16, 2013 at the Thomas & Mack Center.

MWC Championship: UNLV vs. New Mexico

New Mexico head coach Steve Alford finishes cutting down the net after the Lobos defeated UNLV 63-56 to win the Mountain West Conference Tournament championship game Saturday, March 16, 2013 at the Thomas & Mack Center. Launch slideshow »

The first instinct is to assign blame.

If they didn’t make just 33 percent of their shots, or if a few of the 22 3-pointers they missed would have fallen, then the UNLV basketball team might not have lost 63-56 to New Mexico on Saturday in the Mountain West tournament championship game.

But instead of rushing to find faults with the Rebels, let’s first give credit where credit is due. New Mexico is good — maybe the best all-around team since the Mountain West’s inception in 1999.

The Lobos are relentless and can beat opponents in several ways, showing their No. 15 national ranking and 29-win season is no fluke by humbling a UNLV team that, despite what its skeptics say, is talented and still equipped to make noise in next week’s NCAA Tournament. Seriously, Rebel fans, they are.

UNLV did a good job of containing Kendall Williams, the league Player of the Year, who made just 1 of 6 shots in the first half and was limited to 12 points. Also, big man Alex Kirk was bothered most of the game on the inside, scoring only five points on 2-of-9 shooting.

But New Mexico showed it is more than a one-trick pony.

Tony Snell drained 3-pointers on consecutive possessions in the second half to give New Mexico the lead for good, Hugh Greenwood was perfect on a trio of 3-point attempts in the first half and finished with seven rebounds and five assists, and New Mexico committed just seven turnovers.

It's tough to beat a team with that much balance – even when you play your best game, which UNLV didn’t.

But UNLV wasn’t out-hustled, and the outcome had nothing to do with desire. In fact, the Rebels put up a great fight and were the first team in three tournament games to have a lead against New Mexico. UNLV trailed by nine points with less than three minutes remaining, then cut its deficit to three points on a pair of Bryce Dejean-Jones 3-pointers. Then, New Mexico flexed its muscles in again showing the rest of the league who the best team is.

Here is the simple truth: New Mexico was the better than UNLV in the preseason, during the season and in the league tournament.

However, UNLV isn’t that far behind. Sure, second place is the first loser, and the Rebels are playing for championship rings and not participation medals.

But the Rebels learned something about themselves Saturday, and in its other two tournament games, that will make them better next week in the most important tournament.

The Rebels are playing with a chip on their shoulder. They are tough, aggressive and challenge most shots at the rim. They don’t back down — which wasn’t the case earlier in the season. No matter what the score, they kept fighting until the final seconds.

Since their season is already classified by most as a disappointment, the Rebels can play next week with nothing to lose. If they are knocked out of the NCAAs in their first game for the fourth straight season, so what? That, unfortunately, is where the season that started with predictions of a Sweet 16 run has taken us.

It surely wasn’t fun watching the annoying New Mexico fans — everyone is a Lobo, right? — storm the Rebels’ home court in celebration. But they earned it.

Moving forward, UNLV can’t fall into the trap of heaving from the outside; it has to continue setting the tone with its physical style of play, and it has to get lucky. I’ve written this several times before — navigating through the NCAA Tournament is as much matchups and luck as it is the best team winning.

Fortunately, UNLV won’t have to play New Mexico next week.

Ray Brewer can be reached at 990-2662 or [email protected]. Follow Ray on Twitter at twitter.com/raybrewer21.

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  1. There are very few "Rebel fans" among those who read and comment here, and I don't think complaining, anti-UNLV, anti-Rice "skeptics" qualify as fans.

    The Lobos, a better team? Today, perhaps. If UNM earns a 1 seed, the Rebels are a solid 5. If UNM gets a 2, the Rebels are a 6.

    Go out and celebrate tonight, Lobos fans. We own this town, you just pay our income taxes. See you in the tournament.

  2. They played hard and unfortunately lost. Can't miss that many shots down the stretch. Big thanks to anthony marshall, quintrell thomas and j Hawk for the awesome players and gentleman that they are.

  3. Rebels need to do some retooling of their offensive sets in half court. Rice is not going to out Coach another team.
    They do not have a point guard - great teams have Senior PG that make a difference yet - Marshall has become one dimensional. This team sets NO screens, except for big men wandering to the top. WILD SHOOTING - Is anyone paying attention to a kid who is 0-8 shooting who continues to jack up shots? New Mexico says - let him keep shooting it - and it rains misses. UNLV Coaches do not say - look for better shots than off balance 3 pointers. Freshman might be good one night, but when they are off - set up others who are on or get a high percentage shot in the paint? Why is there this - I have to be like Jimmer attitude, assists are not there and good shots were not there.
    Jones - He wants to feel it, so he gets the one on one game going. This is Coaching? Just let them play one one one - clear out sets on offense? The Rebels might think they are NBA guys - but they are not ranked for a reason.

    The simple thought that taking shots close the to the rim are more likely to go in - New Mexico can go cold and punch a couple lay ups to a team that plays one on one basketball. Rebels run into guys, give up a 3 ft runner to kick it out for a 3 pointer? Coaching????

    Get a good bench Coach against Rice - it will be one and done for UNLV. The talent is there, for the exception of a true point guard - Pierre Jackson from Desert Pines goes to Baylor.

    New Mexico plays smarter, watch how they stack screens up for Snell - Dave Rice might want to take a clue at copying this as it was NO WHERE today on offense for UNLV. Lobos get a smarter team against them with athletic ability - they go down. Better for them to be the Dog instead of favorite heading into the tourney. UNLV better think the same way quickly - as they are not and should never have been a favorite today.