Nothing was falling for Fresno State, which quickly fell behind UNLV on Saturday. For a few minutes the Bulldogs appeared headed toward an expected blowout loss in the teams’ regular-season finale at the Thomas & Mack Center.
Enter Kevin Foster.
The senior forward came off the bench and immediately sparked a rally that got Fresno State the lead and eventually a 61-52 victory that has cast an ominous cloud over UNLV as it enters the postseason.
Foster made all five of his 3-point attempts in the first half and 7 of 11 shots overall to go into the break with 19 points. He hit his first six 3s and finished with 25 points.
“The basket felt like an ocean to me,” he said. “I would just shoot, and it felt great every time I shot it. I thought it was going in every time.”
Bulldogs coach Rodney Terry credited Foster for sparking the team.
“He came in and gave us a great lift. We were 1-for-13 prior to him coming in the game,” Terry said. “Even with that, we had great looks, we just weren’t making shots to start the game.
“Once he came in and some baskets went through, it picked our team up and we never really looked back.”
Foster said he had been in the same kind of zone at other times this season, but thought he hadn’t taken full advantage of those situations.
He wasn’t going to let this opportunity slip away.
“Actually there was a couple games I felt it, but I didn’t shoot as much,” Foster said. “This game I just kept shooting, and it actually showed in the stats.”
Foster wasn’t the only Kevin who hurt that Rebels. Cimarron-Memorial alumnus Kevin Olekaibe compiled 13 points, eight assists and five rebounds.
“It meant a lot to me,” the junior said of winning in Las Vegas. “My teammates were telling me they were going to try to get me going early, and they did that. I just tried to execute and not rush anything. Whatever opportunities they gave me, I just took.
“It’s special being from here and all. It was a fun game.”
Olekaibe made all three of his 3-point attempts in the first half and had 11 points at the break.
Terry thought Olekaibe had pressed a bit when he played in front of friends and family during the Western Athletic Conference tournament last year at Orleans Arena, when Olekaibe shot 4-for-16 from the field, including 1 of 8 from 3-point range. Terry told Olekaibe to try to enjoy the moment, but stay within himself on this trip home. The advice worked.
Both Kevins struggled offensively during the second half, along with just about everyone else wearing a jersey. Fresno State was left to win the game on the defensive end, and the Bulldogs did so, aided by poor UNLV shooting.
Fresno State limited UNLV to 52 points on 33 percent shooting, the worst numbers of the season in both categories for the Rebels. The second-lowest were 55 points on 35 percent shooting against the same opponent on the road in February.
Foster said the fact the Bulldogs had their bye on the league schedule ahead of the UNLV game each time was a major reason their defense was so effective in both matchups.
“Our game plan was to take them out of their stuff,” Foster said. “We had a whole week to prepare for them. We went over all of their plays, and (our coaches) showed us how to guard it. We just did what we had to do.”
Contact reporter Adam Hill at email@example.com or 702-224-5509. Follow him on Twitter: @adamhilllvrj.