As each missed shot bounced harmlessly toward the court at New Mexico on Saturday, UNLV fell further and further from a goal it has talked about all year.
The Rebels entered last Wednesday night’s game tied with San Diego State 1 1/2 games behind the Lobos. A conference race that a week ago was shaping up to be one of the most exciting in the country is now all but over.
“We think that the deck is probably stacked against us a little bit, but stranger things have happened in this conference,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said.
It’s not impossible, sure, but it’s very unlikely. New Mexico’s loss to Colorado State on Tuesday keeps things interesting, but the Lobos finish against three of the bottom four teams in the conference. Even if they falter, the Rebels have to take that same trip to Colorado State on February 29.
For all of the panic after UNLV’s recent losses, however, the Rebels are still an NCAA Tournament team.
Last week, UNLV was moving toward a possible No. 3 seed. Two more road losses have tempered that and given the national audience an even clearer picture that the Rebels are a different team outside of Las Vegas. Still, it’s not the free fall many fans fear. The Rebels’ victories against North Carolina and Pac-12 co-leading California still hold weight. And, Mountain West tournament included, UNLV could play seven more games, six of them at the T&M. Considering most of the team’s problems—and all of its losses—have come on the road, the Rebels could get back almost everything that they’ve lost this week.
UNLV will put on blinders and hope for more Lobos stumbles, but realistically, the Rebels lost the regular-season conference title on Saturday. The greater goals are still out there, waiting for UNLV to take them.