LAS VEGAS (AP) – UNLV coach Dave Rice wrote two words on a wipe-off board in the Rebels’ locker room before Friday night’s semifinal game against Colorado State in the Mountain West Conference tournament.
“Tough,” Rice said, “and together.”
Rice got his wish, with eight Rebels contributing on the scoreboard, led by Katin Reinhardt’s career-high 21 points in a 75-65 victory over the Rams.
“Tonight was the epitome of needing everyone,” Rice said. “The energy in the building was fantastic. We (also) needed our depth, and I couldn’t be prouder of our bench.”
The third-seeded Runnin’ Rebels (25-8) advance to Saturday’s championship game, where they’ll meet top-seeded and 15th-ranked New Mexico, a 60-50 winner over San Diego State earlier Friday, with an automatic NCAA tournament bid on the line.
UNLV, which is hosting the tournament at the Thomas and Mack Center, is 3-1 all-time against New Mexico in the tournament. The two are meeting for the sixth time in two seasons and third time this year. They opened the conference season on Jan. 9 in Albuquerque, where the Lobos won, 65-60.
The Rebels took the rematch, 64-55, on Feb. 9 in Las Vegas.
With the win, the Rebels improved to 23-9 all time in the Mountain West tournament and are now 8-4 all-time in the semifinals. They also improved to 3-1 against Colorado State in the event. UNLV advanced to the title game for the eighth time in school history and will be making its first trip to the championship since 2010.
“We know it’s a quick turnaround, (but) we’re excited about the opportunity,” Rice said.
Added senior Anthony Marshall: “It’s going to be a hostile environment. It’s the type of game you dream about.”
UNLV will undoubtedly have to play a much more stringent game against the Lobos than it did Friday night against the Rams. But Friday’s back-and-forth affair was no surprise, as the two just played a close one on Feb. 20, when Marshall’s jumper with 7 seconds left lifted the Rebels to a 61-59 win.
Friday’s 10-point final margin wasn’t indicative of how close the Rams kept it for most of the game, as the Rebels outscored Colorado State 7-0 down the stretch after the Rams closed the gap to 64-61 with 5:24 left in the game.
Reinhardt was one of three Rebels to score in double figures, as Anthony Bennett scored 19 and Marshall added 12.
Though Reinhardt ignited UNLV’s fire, scoring 16 of his points in the first half – when he was 4 of 5 from 3-point range – he was quick to deflect credit.
“We were all making open shots,” Reinhardt said. “I have to give credit to my coaching staff and all my teammates – they had the faith in me and believed in me.”
With the game tied at 21 in the first half, Bennett keyed a 16-3 run with three straight 3-pointers for UNLV. The 6-foot-8 Mountain West freshman of the year scored 11 of the Rebels’ 16 points during the spree.
The Rams (25-8), who were seeded second in the tournament, were led by Colton Iverson, who had 24 points and 16 rebounds. Iverson’s 17 first-half points were a career high for first-half scoring for the senior. Iverson’s 16 boards were the most ever in a Mountain West tournament semifinal.
“That’s a tough-minded team,” Rice added. “That’s a tough team to play against. Credit (former CSU coach) Tim Miles for recruiting those guys and (current coach) Larry Eustachy for coaching them.”
UNLV, which led the Mountain West in defensive field-goal percentage during league play, held the Rams to 38 percent shooting, including 4 of 16 from beyond the arc.
The Rebels, who led 42-36 at halftime, improved to 22-0 this season when ahead after the first half.
“I think we were ‘out-determined’ tonight,” Eustachy said. “Give UNLV a ton of credit. We have to digest it and move on.”
Despite the loss, Colorado State is likely to earn an at-large NCAA tournament berth.
– By W.G. RAMIREZ, Associated Press
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