Experience? Who needs it.
Certainly not the Runnin’ Rebels of UNLV, who rode hot streaks from a pair of precocious freshmen to a 75-65 win over Colorado State on Friday night. The win propelled UNLV to the Mountain West tournament championship game on Saturday afternoon, where they’ll take on regular-season champ New Mexico.
There was nothing pretty about the semifinal victory. Well, maybe Anthony Bennett’s 3-point barrage in the first half. But other than that, it was all about embracing ugliness. The Rebels got beat on the boards — usually a death sentence against Colorado State — but won by driving the lane, taking a pounding and making free throws. For the game, UNLV was 26-of-35 from the stripe, while Colorado State was 11-of-17.
Katin Reinhardt and Bennett were the offensive stars, as the freshmen combined for 40 of the Rebels’ 75 points. Seven of Reinhardt’s career-high 21 came from the free throw line, while Bennett (19 points) was an ultra-efficient 6-of-8 from the floor and 4-of-4 on FTs.
Reinhardt and Bennett did most of their damage in the first half, as Reinhardt hit 4-of-5 from 3-point range and Bennett hit 3-of-4 from deep to give UNLV a 42-36 lead at the break.
Colorado State center Colton Iverson had his way inside for most of the game, posting 24 points and 16 rebounds, and he also put the entire UNLV front court in foul trouble. Senior reserve Quintrell Thomas gave the Rebels some valuable minutes down the stretch, especially on the defensive end.
The Rams pulled within a single point early in the second half, but were never able to grab a lead, as UNLV scored 15 of its 33 second-half points from the free throw line to pad the lead. Nine of the Rebels’ final 17 points came from the FT line, and consecutive jumpers from Reinhardt, Bennett and Bryce Dejean-Jones in the closing minutes sealed the deal.
It may have been ugly, but let’s soldier on and take a closer look at the game with Fast Breakdown.
Reinhardt runs hot
Even after shooting 1-of-10 in Wednesday’s win over Air Force, Katin Reinhardt didn’t hesitate to pull the trigger against Colorado State — good thing for the Rebels. The freshman guard hit four 3-pointers and converted one of the biggest baskets of the game in the final minutes to help seal the win, finishing with a career-high 21 points. Reinhardt also helped set the tone for UNLV by being aggressive and attacking the basket, which earned him eight free throw attempts (7-8).
“I struggled last game,” Reinhardt said, “but [my coaches and teammates] just said, ‘Pick your head up, you’re going to play great next game.'”
Bennett may be a robot
Is Anthony Bennett human? Two days ago, I was questioning whether he would even be a factor in the postseason, considering his late-season fade and troubling shoulder injury. But in his first two collegiate tournament games, he’s scored 42 points on 16-of-22 shooting, which is just not earthly.
At one point midway through the first half, he went on a personal 11-2 run, and his back-to-back-to-back triples during that stretch gave the Rebels their first double-digit lead. Again, he may be a machine.
Can Bennett keep up that kind of production and efficiency in Saturday’s championship game against New Mexico? If he were a normal person, I’d say no. But as the last two games have proved, he’s capable of anything right now.
Thomas steps up
When Khem Birch picked up his fourth foul early in the second half, it could have become a big problem for UNLV. Anthony Bennett also had three fouls, and CSU big man Colton Iverson was killing the Rebels inside. But Rice tabbed Quintrell Thomas, and the fifth-year senior put on his hard hat and went to work. In 20 minutes (his most since Jan. 24), Thomas posted five points and six rebounds, but most importantly, he helped contain Iverson. Yes, Iverson still finished with 24 and 16, but believe me, it could have been much worse.
“It was a difficult situation to manage that foul trouble,” Rice said. “But our depth won out in the end. I couldn’t be prouder of the effort that our guys came in off the bench and gave.”
Green not on the money
Much of the pre-game speculation centered on CSU point guard Dorian Green, who was questionable with an ankle injury. He ended up starting, but in the end it didn’t make much difference — his mobility was limited, he was easily guardable, and he was ultimately ineffective in his 18 minutes, totaling just five points (2-7 FGs), zero assists and zero rebounds.
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