Like Rams mascot, UNLV predictably makes a mess


FORT COLLINS, Colo. -- They can tweet all the expletives they want, and they can set world-record times for getting from a morgue of a locker room to a morgue of a bus, and they can talk about being disappointed until every flake of snow has melted atop the Rockies, but UNLV's basketball team has only itself to blame for its Mountain West Conference standing today.

This is getting old.

I suppose anything still can happen in the conference race because before the Rebels blew another big lead on the road and lost 66-59 Wednesday night, the Colorado State Rams mascot got a bit amped up during the national anthem and urinated on the Moby Arena court. Just stood there and whizzed away. I haven't yet checked if it was caught on tape for the league office to now censor from the outside world, but if so, you can rest assured the edit police will find it.

Either way, it's going to take more than a few wet spots for New Mexico and/or San Diego State not to claim a share or all of the conference title and the No. 1 seed entering next week's league tournament at the Thomas & Mack Center.

The Rebels all but made sure they won't be among such conversation, following their best first half of the season with another dreadful 20 minutes away from home that produced 18 points and a loss that knocked them a game behind the Lobos and Aztecs with only Saturday's regular-season finale against Wyoming remaining.

San Diego State could lose at Texas Christian, but New Mexico hosts Boise State, the Mountain West road equivalent of the Washington Generals. UNLV could beat Wyoming by 30 -- and might, given the game is not in that frightening oasis known as another's gym -- and still likely is looking at a No. 3 seed.

This was a psyche game, an opportunity for UNLV players and coaches to put to rest the questions and doubts and, well, facts about them not having the toughness to win on the road.

This was a chance to shoot a dose of needed confidence into the Rebels before NCAA Tournament pairings are announced and a neutral court summons them.

This was a 16-point UNLV lead almost four minutes into the second half. And a four-point lead not four minutes later.

This. Is. Getting. Really. Old.

"I think for us tonight the focus was simply competing for a regular-season conference championship," UNLV coach Dave Rice said. "I understand what you're saying. I think the byproduct (of winning) would have been confidence in March, but that was not our focus.

"We were tied for first place and had played our way back into a first-place tie and had a chance to control our own destiny, and we didn't get it done."

They couldn't have played a more complete first half and couldn't have answered it with a worse second one. They got beat on the boards time and again over the final 20 minutes, when they allowed 13 second-chance points. They couldn't stop CSU guard Dorian Green down the stretch. They scored 18 points on 6-for-22 shooting after intermission.

They got 1-for-10 shooting and two rebounds from Mike Moser, whose performances here and in Albuquerque, N.M., has shortened the conference Player of the Year race to Drew Gordon of New Mexico and Jamaal Franklin of San Diego State. Or at least it should be that way to unbiased (nonfan) eyes.

In his past four games, Moser has averaged 5.2 points and 5.2 rebounds while shooting 8 of 34.

Rice said he was more disappointed than angry afterward, and that's more his personality, at least publicly. He's not going to change and would appear more disingenuous than not if he suddenly became some screaming lunatic after such defeats.

But his players are feeling it.

Justin Hawkins tweeted immediately following the game, "This (expletive) is (bleeping) embarrassing." He quickly deleted the tweet.

Reggie Smith was more straightforward with his tweet: "(Expletive) (Expletive) (Expletive)!!!"

The thing is, it's as we expected since the 20-point loss at New Mexico.

UNLV will beat Wyoming on Saturday and have every opportunity to be rested and ready to win the conference tournament on its home floor.

It likely will spend the late afternoon of March 10 cutting down nets and posing for pictures and readying for a Selection Sunday show the following day.

And all will seem right again until that neutral court comes calling.

Make no mistake. UNLV blew an opportunity to win an outright conference title this season. It was there for the taking. The Rebels had the players.

They just didn't have tough enough ones.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 3 to 5 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday on "Monsters of the Midday," Fox Sports Radio 920 AM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.

 

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