UNLV made it to the championship game of the Mountain West Conference tournament by easily beating Air Force in the first round and then pounding hard with a physical Colorado State team in the second. But the final was a whole different experience: A tough, cohesive New Mexico team showed the Rebels why teamwork always beats individual play.
After Anthony Bennett scored UNLV’s first 11 points, the cagey Lobos intensified their defense, moved the ball well on offense and took control of the game. Even when the Rebels tied the game at 44 in the second craps half, the Lobos never lost their cool. The young Rebels, meanwhile, began pressing on offense and suffered some crucial breakdowns on defense, such as the one that left Tony Snell wide open for a 3-pointer that put New Mexico up 49-45 and ended UNLV’s best run of the night.
Now the Rebels must prepare for a matchup with California in the first round of the NCAA tournament on March 21—and the lessons of that New Mexico loss will be crucial: Stay composed, play together and treat each defensive possession as if the game depends on it.
Because it will.
Robert Smith, a star UNLV point guard from 1974-77, is the color analyst for Rebel broadcasts on ESPN Radio 1100.