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[NCAA Tournament]

The Rebels’ furious rally an example of what UNLV could have been this season

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UNLV guard Justin Hawkins celebrates his three-point shot that brought the Rebels to within two points of Colorado during their second round NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship game Thursday, March 15, 2012 in Albuquerque. It was the closest the Rebels got as UNLV lost the game 68-64.
Photo: Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Taylor Bern

2012 NCAA Tournament - UNLV vs. Colorado

UNLV vs. Colorado State

ALBUQUERQUE — UNLV’s attempted comeback Thursday wasn’t a slow build, steady drips of water slowly eroding away the surface. This was an avalanche, fast, hard and out of control.

The Rebels trailed 57-41 with 8:27 left in their season when UNLV coach Dave Rice substituted sophomore forward Mike Moser in for junior forward Carlos Lopez.

That made the lineup Moser, senior small forward Chace Stanback, junior guards Anthony Marshall and Justin Hawkins and senior guard Oscar Bellfield.

“That’s our best lineup when we press and go small,” Rice said after UNLV’s 68-64 loss to Colorado.

Bellfield hit a shot. They forced two turnovers then hit another. Colorado called a timeout, and after a pair of Hawkins free throws they turned it over twice more in an 18-second span. A Bellfield 3 cut it to seven, a Marshall layup cut it to five and Hawkins’ 3-pointer with 4:19 to play made it a two-point game.

“We put ourselves in a very deep hole getting down 20, and when you do that everything has to go perfectly,” Rice said. “It almost did.”

All told it was a 12-0 run over four minutes that included six Colorado turnovers. Once UNLV started applying full-court pressure, the Buffs looked rattled for the first time all day and momentum very quickly shifted in the Rebels’ favor.

“Just wanted to leave it all out there. It wasn’t anything more than that,” Moser said.

Colorado could barely get into its offense, attempting only three shots during the rally. That UNLV lineup found a spark that had been missing the entire game and really the last month of the season.

“All I can think about is how we fought back, how we battled,” said Bellfield, who has played his final game in UNLV uniform. “If we did that before, maybe two minutes before or even in the first half, things would have been different.”

But they didn’t start it earlier. UNLV couldn’t put its offense and defense together until it started pressuring Colorado, and the Rebels didn’t start doing that until midway through the second half.

The risk with a press is giving up easy baskets, which Colorado eventually found when Carlon Brown broke away for a dunk with 2:27 left that seemed to calm the Buffaloes’ nerves. That put Colorado up by five, and UNLV couldn’t cut the deficit back to one possession until there were eight seconds left and the game was all but over.

UNLV didn’t roll over. It didn’t quit when all hope seemed lost. That’s the silver lining on an altogether gray day.

“Everybody has heart on this team, we didn’t want to go out like that,” Bellfield said.

Rice talked about that run giving the team momentum into the off-season, a nice thought that reeks of “wait and see.” It’s very frustrating for the fans to see in that stretch what UNLV is capable of — and what they’ve been capable of all season — and not be able to figure out why it only came in spurts if at all.

Another early exit leaves another pile of questions. The run is a good tease, as Rice said, to build off if they can harness that energy and effort. But there’s no guarantee that it will lead to anything.

“We fought to the end, till the buzzer sounded,” Marshall said. “That’s something to be proud of.”

As good as the run was, it may just be a moment that gets left behind, tossed aside with the other disappointments from a year when potential and production didn’t meet nearly enough.

Taylor Bern can be reached at 948-7844 or taylor.bern@lasvegassun.com. Follow Taylor on Twitter at twitter.com/taylorbern.
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Taylor, who covers UNLV sports, is a 2010 graduate of the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University ...

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