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UNLV guard suspended before Mountain West tournament

Updated March 7, 2023 - 6:02 pm

UNLV will be without its starting point guard for its first-round game in the Mountain West men’s basketball tournament.

Sophomore guard Keshon Gilbert has been suspended for one game by the conference for violating sportsmanship conduct policies during an incident that led to his ejection during the Rebels’ regular-season finale against UNR on Saturday.

UNLV, the No. 7 seed, will meet No. 10 Air Force at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Thomas &Mack Center.

“We understand everybody has a role and will have to step up,” fifth-year point guard Jordan McCabe said. “We trust in our system. We trust in our ability to play together. We’ve got plenty of weapons, no matter what.”

The Rebels (18-12) won the only meeting between the teams Feb. 24 at the Thomas &Mack after a tip-in by fifth-year guard EJ Harkless beat the buzzer to secure a 54-53 victory.

“There’s a lot of things we thought we could’ve done better the first time around against Air Force, but we gutted out a win,” McCabe said. “For us to do that gives us confidence.”

Gilbert was ejected early in the first half against UNR after a confrontation with forward Tre Coleman. After exchanging words, Gilbert swooped his head toward Coleman and seemed to make minimal contact. He was immediately ejected.

His absence will have an impact on UNLV. He started 29 of the 30 games and is second on the team in scoring at 11.5 points per game and assists with 96.

UNLV does have an experienced replacement in McCabe, who started 31 games for the Rebels last season.

McCabe is averaging 5.5 points in 18 minutes per game off the bench this season. He averaged 6.4 points in 30 minutes per game in his first season with the Rebels. He’s also shooting more efficiently, especially on 3-pointers, of which he’s making 42 percent of his attempts.

For McCabe, the chance to step back into a major role in his final season is exhilarating. He knows any chance to extend his time on the court will require the Rebels to win four games in four days to make the NCAA Tournament.

“There’s a huge sense of urgency going into this tournament,” he said.

Senior walk-on guard Cameron Burist also might figure into the rotation against Air Force. The former Liberty High standout played 10 minutes against UNR after Gilbert’s ejection, and coach Kevin Kruger praised his contributions.

Burist said he’s spent the past few practices focusing on defense, anticipating Air Force’s heavy player-movement scheme. He also said Gilbert has been helping prepare him for the game.

“We hate that (Gilbert) can’t be with us, but we’re always next man up,” Burist said. “We believe in each other.”

Contact reporter Andy Yamashita at ayamashita@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ANYamashita on Twitter.

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