I’m not so sure it’s this simple, but for all the weirdness of this college basketball season, it just might be: My esteemed colleague, fellow Review-Journal columnist Ron Kantowski, viewed Katin Reinhardt’s recent shooting slump in the most basic of terms.
He felt the UNLV freshman was relying too much on style over substance, that those leg warmers Reinhardt wore all basketball season must have had something to do with the fact he suddenly went colder than Larry Eustachy’s stare at another call from one of the resident bumbling officials, that perhaps it was time for Reinhardt to stop sporting a look last seen by Olivia Newton-John in the “Let’s Get Physical,” video.
Reinhardt scratched the warmers Friday night and played his finest game all season given the night’s significance, leading the Rebels into today’s Mountain West tournament final.
UNLV defeated Colorado State 75-65 at a sold-out Thomas & Mack Center, one rocking under the cheers of Rebel fans and to the disappointment of those supporting Colorado State, most of whom were wearing New Mexico colors.
It will help UNLV greatly today if it brings the same level of physical play seen against the Rams. The Rebels shot 35 free throws to just 17 for the Rams, which didn’t please Eustachy, who blew a fuse and was assessed a first-half technical.
It was an almost perfect meltdown, well worth the wait all season for the Colorado State coach to finally lose it.
New Mexico advanced to the championship by beating San Diego State in the evening’s first game, setting up a final between teams already in the NCAA Tournament and yet hoping that one more victory might improve whatever seed line the selection committee has in store for them.
Reinhardt scored a team-high 21 points on 5-for-13 shooting, making 4 of 9 3-pointers, and adding three steals and two assists.
He played and shot with confidence.
But while Reinhardt stole the show, Anthony Bennett set the tone.
The freshman will play his final game in the Thomas & Mack today, destined for the NBA Draft. The only way you see Bennett competing in this building again is if whatever team selects him in June finds itself in Las Vegas for an exhibition.
There was a game earlier this season when Bennett was again gassed early — God help the kid’s lungs if he is selected by the Nuggets — and disappearing on defense, unable to guard an opposing post player whose biggest claim to fame 10 years from now will be telling his children he more than held his own against the UNLV standout.
A reporter along press row wondered how draft projections all agree Bennett will be a lottery selection, perhaps as high as a top-five pick. He just couldn’t understand how so many assumed Bennett would be a sure-thing in the NBA.
On his team’s next possession, Bennett caught the ball in transition, crossed over a point guard at the top of the key and drove the lane for a one-handed dunk.
On the next one, he again received the ball in transition, pulled up and sank a 3-pointer.
On the next one, he set a ball screen up top, rolled to one side, received a pass and made a mid-range jumper.
I turned to the reporter: “Those three plays is why he’s a lottery pick.”
The NBA Draft has been an exercise in risks and unfinished products for some time, and a player with Bennett’s skill set at the offensive end is all scouts care about at this point. They won’t fret about him being undersized or lacking much of a back-to-the-basket game or the fact he runs up the court two or three times and appears as though he just completed the Boston Marathon.
They’ll see a potential pick-and-pop star. They will also see a first-half sequence like Bennett gave Friday, when he hit two free throws and 3-pointers on three consecutive possessions, helping UNLV gain an early lead.
Bennett scored 19 points on only eight shots, efficiency in the highest form.
The Rebels and Lobos split two season meetings, each winning on their own floor. To the winner today goes an automatic NCAA Tournament bid and the right to climb a ladder and cut down a net and lift a trophy.
To the loser goes a 24-hour wait to learn where in the NCAA bracket it will land.
Either way, if he’s smart, Reinhardt will play sans leg warmers.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at email@example.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.