In a week, Kevin Olekaibe will play his final regular-season home game at UNLV. But he’s not looking ahead, and he’s trying not to look back, either.
Four days after an emotionally crushing loss, the Rebels need to rebound. On a team with no prototypical strong leader, Olekaibe is attempting to be the player who sets the tone.
“I’ve got to make sure everybody is ready to play, being a senior leader, by getting guys amped for the game,” he said. “This is what the whole season is about. It’s about ups and downs and how you rebound from them, and we’ve had a lot of those.”
UNLV (17-10, 8-6 Mountain West) hosts Colorado State (15-13, 6-9) at 8:05 p.m. today at the Thomas &Mack Center, and the teams’ first meeting marked one of the Rebels’ lowest points.
The Rams rolled to a 75-57 victory on Feb. 5 behind junior guard Daniel Bejarano, who compiled 24 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists. It was UNLV’s worst performance in league play, prompting coach Dave Rice to bench all five starters in the second half for a lack of effort.
“We came out flat and seemed like we weren’t ready to play,” Olekaibe said. “They have confidence now, and there’s no fear factor for them.
“We know what they did to us. I don’t think there’s much to be said.”
While revenge is an angle the Rebels are working with, a hangover effect could work against them.
UNLV’s players have had ample time to shake off a 91-90 overtime loss at Boise State on Saturday, when Deville Smith’s apparent winning 3-pointer as time expired was disallowed after a replay review. One minute, the Rebels were celebrating a wild win, and then they were on the losing end.
Olekaibe chose not to blame the officials and lament any controversy, although he watched video of the final play and disagreed with the decision.
“They called the shot good on the floor, and I don’t think there was enough to overturn it,” he said. “We thought we won. It could have gone either way. But sometimes the game of basketball doesn’t go your way, and you’ve got to bounce back from it.
“That game didn’t come down to a last shot. We missed five free throws in the last two minutes.”
UNLV shot 14 of 24 at the free-throw line against Boise State, which overcame a five-point deficit in the final minute of regulation. There also were some encouraging signs for the Rebels, who played with great intensity, shot 50.7 percent from the field and had six players score in double figures.
Smith, a junior point guard, controlled the flow of a fast-paced game and finished with 22 points and seven assists, and freshman forward Chris Wood had 10 points and seven rebounds in 17 minutes off the bench.
Rice emphasized the positives and the need to “turn the page” and move on to the next game.
“There is a period of mourning in the locker room,” Rice said, “and then you wake up the next morning and realize there’s still a lot of basketball left to be played.”
UNLV, hammered on its home floor by league-leading New Mexico a week ago, is looking to avoid its first three-game losing streak in Rice’s three seasons.
Avenging a lopsided loss in Fort Collins, Colo., might be the motivational boost the Rebels require. Rice showed the team film clips from the game three weeks ago, when the Rams shot 28 free throws, a season high for a UNLV opponent, and convincingly won the toughness contest.
“There were ample clips of defensive breakdowns in that game to show our guys,” Rice said.
Olekaibe, held to three points on 1-for-6 shooting at Colorado State, said the Rebels have moved past their disappointment from Saturday.
“We’ve got to put it behind us,” he said. “We were down, and we’ve got to make sure we’re back on the rise.”
Contact reporter Matt Youmans at email@example.com or 702-387-2907. Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.