Whatever you do, just don’t look back. That’s the mentality for UNLV’s basketball team as it works through the second half of league play in the Mountain West, a slate of games the Rebels hope isn’t mined with missed opportunities, like the first half.
Lost in the excitement of the big 64-55 home victory against then-first place New Mexico on February 9 was just how much bigger it could have been had UNLV not lost at Boise State one week earlier. Or hadn’t lost to last-place Fresno State a few days after that. Or both.
The Boise State loss is far more excusable; the Broncos are a fringe NCAA Tournament team with motivation to keep playing hard. Fresno State, on the other hand, is the worst road conference loss of coach Dave Rice’s tenure. The Mountain West is a very tough league—by some measures the second-best conference in the nation this year—but a program with big aspirations still needs to win more consistently.
Defeating New Mexico last Saturday took away some of that sting, but trips to Wyoming and UNR still loom. Those are winnable, especially for a team as talented as UNLV, but the Rebels have already proven they can lose perfectly winnable games.
Rice often cites the presence of four new faces in the regular rotation as a reason his team hasn’t reached its potential. Their maturation together will be even more important as it becomes clear that Mike Moser, who dislocated his elbow on December 9, won’t return to full strength this season. He’s still in pain every time someone bumps his elbow, which happens a lot in a basketball game.
If it sounds like all hope is lost, cheer up. The Mountain West continues to beat up on itself, and though the Rebels are closer to the middle of the pack than the top these days, there’s still time for that to change. Assuming UNLV can deliver the second time around.