Rebels’ Moser may miss his Portland homecoming with hip injury

PORTLAND, Ore. – A game that was scheduled a year ago as Mike Moser’s homecoming might not go off as planned. It could be a last-minute call by Moser as to whether he goes at all.

The UNLV junior forward said he expects "about 130" family members and friends to be in attendance tonight, and it’s fair to say he never envisioned entertaining them by sitting on the bench while nursing a strained left hip.

"It would be fun to play in front of family and everybody back there," said Moser, Oregon’s Mr. Basketball at Grant High School in Portland in 2009. "That’s where it all started."

But the 21st-ranked Rebels (5-1) might be forced to adjust their starting lineup when they face Portland (3-4) at 8 p.m. at the Chiles Center.

Moser, the team’s No. 2 scorer (12.3 points per game) and leading rebounder (9.2), did not practice Sunday or Monday. With six minutes remaining in UNLV’s 77-63 victory over Hawaii on Saturday, Moser left the game after aggravating a hip injury he dealt with during the preseason.

"He absolutely will be a game-time decision," coach Dave Rice said. "There’s no doubt that Mike makes every effort to play, regardless of the opponent, but this is extra special for him being able to go back home.

"Mike would be disappointed if he had to miss any game, but certainly it’s a special experience to go back to your hometown. I would be disappointed for Mike, and just as much for his family, because I know what a big deal it is."

Rice said he will defer the decision to the medical staff and Moser’s judgment. Moser did not speculate on his chances of playing.

If Moser misses the game, Rice said senior Quintrell Thomas would start at the 5-spot, with freshman Anthony Bennett playing more minutes at small forward. Thomas, averaging 3.8 points and 5.0 rebounds in six games, has not started since the end of the 2010-11 season.

Moser’s absence also could mean increased playing time for reserves Savon Goodman and Carlos Lopez-Sosa.

The Rebels, favored by 13 points over the Pilots even with Moser’s status as questionable, have a tougher road test at California on deck Sunday.

"We have a long season ahead, and we need a healthy Mike to be as good as we can be," Rice said. "We just want to do what’s right for Mike and for our team."

Portland, 3-0 at home with wins over Idaho State, Portland State and Lewis & Clark College, was predicted to finish in the bottom half of the West Coast Conference.

But UNLV has something to prove on the road. The Rebels went 2-5 on the Mountain West road last season, and both wins (Air Force and Boise State) came in overtime.

"I really think we’re ready to get on the road and see what we’re made of," senior guard Justin Hawkins said. "It’s a new season, new team and new players."

Moser considered not returning this season. He flirted with the option of entering the NBA Draft after a breakout sophomore year in which he led UNLV in scoring and rebounding. During the preseason, he was ranked the No. 6 player in college basketball by CBSSports.com.

"I was pretty serious. I felt like it was a good opportunity," Moser said. "But it was an even better opportunity coming back. Talking to coaches here and the plan that they had for me and the players they were bringing in, that was probably the biggest thing for me."

The 6-foot-8-inch Moser described himself as a "late bloomer" who grew from 5-10 in the eighth grade to 6-6 by his sophomore or junior year in high school.

He spent a year on the bench at UCLA before transferring and redshirting the 2010-11 season at UNLV. This season, he said, is not about showcasing his skills for NBA scouts.

"I’m the same player. I’m trying to go get 20 rebounds, being aggressive to the basket, knocking down shots and pushing the ball in transition," he said. "I’m trying to refine the things I do well. I’m really not trying to show anything.

"I’ve got really good chemistry with a lot of new guys, and I feel like I know what it takes to win."

Contact reporter Matt Youmans at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907. Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.

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