This has been one of the most unusual seasons for UNLV Basketball. The loss of a head coach, the injuries, the dismissal, and exit of a key player. But, the Rebels have persevered.
This will not be a conference season that will stick out in the record books, but in their final official home game, the Runnin' Rebs showed their fans that something that is not missing is heart (and Stephen Zimmerman was no longer missing either as he made his triumphant return tonight against the Wyoming Cowboys in which the Rebels came away with a 79-74 victory).
After the Rebels held the lead for the majority of the first half, Wyoming's Josh Adams did what he does best. He is the highest scoring player in the Mountain West Conference with just over 24 points a game, and tonight he poured in 31. If anyone doubts that he is a potential NBA talent, the last few games should have rested those uncertainties. Try to stop him, or put him on defense, and he will stop you. It may have been senior night for Ike Nwamu, Jerome Seagears, and Barry Cheaney, but Adams shined.
Unfortunately, in a desperate attempt to keep his team in the game with just a couple minutes left, he earned his fifth foul as he leapt high to block a potential Derrick Jones dunk.
Instead, it was the Rebels' seniors who stood out appropriately at UNLV's Senior Night. Seagears and Nwamu have been a part of the regular rotation from game 1 day 1. Both have had roller coaster type seasons, but tonight they would leave their imprint in this final home game.
Nwamu made key free throws in the final minute to allow UNLV a comfortable distance from the Cowboys' last stitch efforts to climb back into the game. However, Nwamu's contribution was not the story of the night.
Instead, the entire Rebel squad clearly understood that without Seagears' lights out 3-point shooting that the game could have easily gone the other way. Within the first three minutes, Seagears made three back to back 3-pointers. And in some crucial moments down the stretch, he continued to add to his scoring total. He went 6-8 on 3s with 18 points in the game.
Seagears made such an impact on the game that as Jones grabbed the in-bound pass as the final buzzer rang, he turned to Seagears and pushed the game ball into his chest. And that's where it deserved to be.
Tonight's game could have easily gone either way. And whichever team plays either one of these teams at the conference tourney will have their hands full.
Yet, the other important story from the night didn't come on the court. Dave Rice, who is no longer the head coach of the basketball team at UNLV, showed his class and support when he sat just three rows behind the Rebels' bench. He obviously wanted to show his commitment and support to his seniors on their memorable night.
It seemed a truly fitting end to the conference season at the Thomas and Mack for UNLV. In such an unpredictable last few months, Rice was able to witness first hand a team that he had such a large part developing.
The Rebels have one more game of the season left and it comes at the hands of San Diego State. After SDSU fell to Boise State tonight at home, this may be an intriguing match-up and a very fun way to put an end to conference play in the MWC.