Rebels have plenty to play for


FORT COLLINS, Colo. -- Without hesitation, sophomore forward Mike Moser explained what's on the line in UNLV's final road game.

"Just about everything," he said.

The Rebels are walking a tightrope on the road, and another false step could cost them the Mountain West Conference regular-season championship and a potential top seed in next week's league tournament.

On top of that, their NCAA Tournament seed is floating in a gray area, and, if he finishes with a flourish, Moser has a shot to be voted the conference's Player of the Year.

There will be plenty on the line for No. 17 UNLV (24-6, 8-4) when it faces Colorado State (17-10, 6-6) at 7:15 p.m. today. But there is also a lot riding on the game for the Rams, who are fighting to get into the NCAA's field of 68.

"It's a big game for Colorado State, and yet it needs to be a bigger game for us," Rebels coach Dave Rice said. "This is probably as big a challenge as we've had this year because of the implications."

The degree of difficulty is heightened for UNLV because it has repeatedly failed to scale the Mountain West road, losing three in a row and four of six.

On Feb. 1, after a 19-point victory over the Rams, the Rebels were in a lofty position, and Moser was widely regarded as the league's top player. On the last day of the month, all of that is in jeopardy.

UNLV is knotted in a three-way tie for first with New Mexico and San Diego State, and Moser is in a mini-scoring slump.

"I think guys have got to step up and perform," Moser said. "We've got all the qualities that make a good team, and it should be able to translate on the road. I think guys take it a little more personally now."

The Rebels have been hyped as an offensive juggernaut, and somewhere along the way, defense was de-emphasized as a side effect. The results have shown on the road, especially in a 20-point loss at New Mexico on Feb. 18.

"It didn't feel like we gave the kind of defensive effort that we need to give," Rice said. "On the road, any defensive mistake is magnified. Winning road games is a true measure of a team's consistency throughout the course of 40 minutes.

"We have gotten off to rather lackluster starts on the road the last several times. We just haven't played very well in league games on the road, and that has been a frustrating thing for all of our guys. So it's a big deal. We're a determined group, and we just need to step up and count on our seniors to make big plays to lead us."

The team's three senior starters -- Chace Stanback, Oscar Bellfield and Brice Massamba -- have been inconsistent in road games. So, most likely, it will be up to Moser and junior guard Anthony Marshall to step up and make most of the big plays.

Marshall displayed more toughness than his teammates while UNLV unraveled in the second half against the Lobos. He attacked the basket and drew fouls, going to the free-throw line 13 times and totaling 18 points and 10 rebounds.

"We've got to try to get some easy shots and make some things happen," Marshall said. "We have a lot of veterans who have played a lot of basketball. We're a very tough group, but right now the games and road stats show otherwise."

Asked if the Rebels' toughness deserves to be questioned, Marshall said, "Definitely. We've got to go out there and prove it."

The Rams, a group of undersized grinders led by Wes Eikmeier and Pierce Hornung, have become tough to beat at Moby Arena, where they are 13-1 this season and easily took down New Mexico and San Diego State.

Next on their hit list is road-weary UNLV.

"I think we get lackadaisical on the road. Whether it's not rebounding or being lazy on defense, those things have got to stop," Moser said. "We've just got to keep grinding. We've got to do better."

The Rebels have won two straight in Fort Collins, including a 68-61 decision last February, and Rice said 40 minutes of defensive intensity is the key to extending the streak to three.

"We've been a team that's risen to a lot of challenges," Rice said.

Contact reporter Matt Youmans at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907.

 

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