Rebels’ fate in Terry’s hands

OMAHA, Neb. — It’s right in front of him, but UNLV senior Curtis Terry is pretending not to see it. The end of his college career is near.

Four years and 131 games have passed. The next game could be Terry’s last.

For a basketball player, it’s what makes the month of March so dramatic.

"It definitely has been very emotional," Terry said, reflecting on the past two weeks. "I’ve been trying to hold it back and not worry about it too much."

The climactic nature of the NCAA Tournament hits seniors the hardest. The journey is a thrill. But there is fear in the finality of it all, and delaying the inevitable is the goal.

The Rebels have enjoyed several shining moments in getting this far. Now, they hope for one or two more.

UNLV (26-7) is the No. 8 seed in the Midwest Region and will play No. 9 Kent State (28-6) at about 11:55 a.m. today in a first-round game at the Qwest Center.

The winner advances to Saturday’s second round, where either top-seeded Kansas or No. 16 Portland State will await.

"The season has been special for us so far," Terry said. "But from now on, every game could be our last game, so we’re going to do everything we can to move on and keep fighting another day. And I think our chances are good.

"We’re just ecstatic right now to be back in the NCAA Tournament. We’re on the big stage. There’s more people and brighter lights. Everything is more important. There’s more of a sense of urgency."

Terry, who began his career as a walk-on, took over as the Rebels’ starting point guard in November. He has learned the nuances of the position, met the demands and seen impressive results.

In his past four games, Terry’s performance has peaked. He averaged 19.3 points per game and shot 24-for-46 from the field, including 12-for-23 on 3-pointers, in four victories that spanned the regular-season finale and the Mountain West Conference Tournament.

Five months ago, when practice opened and UNLV coach Lon Kruger sized up his roster, he hoped this is what Terry would produce.

"But when a guy hasn’t done it before, you never know for sure," Kruger said. "You never know when you throw a guy into that role, when he really hasn’t been there to that extent, how he will handle it.

"We’ve been very pleased. Curt’s done a terrific job when you think about his play from start to finish overall. It has been very solid."

Terry always has shown an ability to make clutch shots. But there’s more to running an offense, and Terry has expanded his repertoire to become a well-rounded point guard.

"I’ve just learned throughout the season what a good possession is on offense," Terry said.

His scoring average is a career-high 11.2 points per game, up from 4.5 last season. His shooting percentage (.423) has improved and his assist-to-turnover numbers (161-80) are acceptable.

"Curt’s been making a lot of improvements," said junior guard Wink Adams, the Rebels’ leading scorer at 16.6 points per game. "He has a lot of experience. He knows where everybody’s going to be.

"He’s the leader of this team now. Being a point guard, he’s got to know how everybody plays and what everybody can do. Curt knows our strong points, and he makes everybody better."

The Rebels are 10-0 when Terry scores at least 15 points. When Terry and Adams are scoring big in the same game, as they did three consecutive nights in the conference tournament, the team’s chances for success are great.

Kruger said the 6-foot-5-inch Terry has become "really assertive in a good way" by breaking down defenses with dribble penetration. Terry is most effective when using his size to force his way to the basket, and when he’s not finishing the play, he’s facilitating the offense by passing out to perimeter shooters.

"He was aggressive to attack, made good plays and good decisions and got the ball to shooters," Kruger said of Terry’s play last week. "The experience of being out there, the confidence of running the team successfully, he’s done it all year.

"Early on, he thought he could and felt good about it, but he hadn’t done it. And now he’s done it."

UNLV’s fate is in Terry’s hands, for the most part. Adams, sidelined early this week by the flu, shot the ball well in Wednesday’s practice and said he’s feeling better going into today’s game.

The Golden Flashes’ top player is junior guard Al Fisher, the Mid-American Conference Player of the Year. But the Rebels should have an edge in the backcourt.

With Terry directing the offense and Adams at his side, UNLV has more than an outside shot of extending its season.

"It’s going to be a very competitive game," Terry said. "We’re here, and we’re ready to play, and we want to continue our season."

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

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