UNLV basketball:

Rebels preparing to win eighth straight game against UNR with or without Bennett

UNLV (21-7, 8-5) still doesn’t know if it will have its leading scorer and reobunder when it tips against the Wolf Pack (12-15, 3-10) on Saturday afternoon

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV forward Anthony Bennett holds a towel on his head during a time out in their game against Air Force Saturday, Jan. 12, 2013 at the Thomas & Mack. UNLV won in overtime, 76-71.

The Rebel Room

Breaking down the brackets

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CBSSports.com's Jeff Borzello joins Las Vegas Sun reporter Taylor Bern to discuss UNLV's seeding possibilities in Part One, and then at the 15:30 mark Taylor is joined by SI.com's Andy Glockner who offers his insight to the Mountain West's collective standing as we approach tournament time. All rights for the intro, outro and intermission music to alt-J, so go buy their album.

While the Rebels stood on one court breaking down their game plan for Saturday’s game at UNR, freshman Anthony Bennett stood on another, hoisting up free throw attempts and paying for his misses with jogs up and down the court.

This is the uncertainty the Rebels (21-7, 8-5) face while preparing for their final true road game of the season, a 1 p.m. tip-off Saturday against the Wolf Pack (12-15, 3-10) on NBC Sports Network. While most of the team figures out what it’s trying to do against UNR guards Malik Story (16.1 points per game) and Deonte Burton (15.7 ppg), Bennett is figuring out just how hard to push himself.

He’s hoping to practice Friday before the team boards its flight for Reno, but Bennett had hoped to practice Thursday, too. That didn’t happen because the possible nerve damage in his left shoulder is a day-by-day deal and Thursday wasn’t a good day.

After going through an MRI procedure that Bennett said took a couple of hours, as well as an ultrasound, doctors found no structural damage in Bennett’s shoulder. So trainer Dave Tomchek told media Wednesday he’s treating Bennett “as having brachial neuritis, which is exactly inflammation of the nerve group coming off your neck to the shoulder.”

The diagnosis sounds serious, and it is when you consider the rarity and unknown factors that go with it. However, Bennett said it doesn’t concern him. Except when it does.

“I’m not worried about it at all,” Bennett said. “I can be tough and probably play through it, I just don’t want to reaggravate it or make anything worse for the future.”

You could argue trying not to reaggravate the injury is tantamount to worrying about reaggravating it, though that may be splitting hairs. When asked if Saturday’s game were the NCAA Tournament instead of a trip to Reno, Bennett said he would definitely play.

“I can’t miss out on that,” Bennett said. “Hopefully I’ll be ready by then.”

It’s still possible he’ll even play against the Wolf Pack, perhaps in a reserve role off the bench to sub in for junior Mike Moser, who will take Bennett’s starting spot at power forward if the freshman can’t go. Moser, whose confidence has certainly made a full recovery even if his elbow is still less than perfect, said he has no problem stepping in for extended minutes in Round 2 of the Governor’s Series. And it is a rivalry, he said, in case you thought UNLV’s seven-game winning streak suggested otherwise.

“No matter which way you look at it, it’s a rivalry. Little brother vs. big brother, whoever you want to call the big brother,” Moser said. “We’ll take that title for now.”

Senior guards Anthony Marshall and Justin Hawkins have a chance to end their careers with perfect records against the Wolf Pack (pending a conference tournament meeting). That’s a nice thought, especially since Marshall guessed he had been playing with or against Burton, a Los Angeles native, since eighth or ninth grade, but it’s still just a thought until the Rebels go out and do it. After all, UNLV isn’t far removed from a four-game road losing streak.

“You can’t look too far down the line because if you overlook a team, that’ll come back to bite you,” Marshall said.

Since Bennett is all but assured to be selected in the lottery portion of June’s NBA draft, this game could end his career against UNR unblemished, too. Whether he’ll actually be on the court for this one, though, right now seems like a 50/50 proposition.

He feels better but he doesn’t want to rush it. He knows the team can play well without him but he’s trying to focus more on the day-to-day than his further-out future, and today he wants to play.

The decision will ultimately come from Tomchek and Bennett together, though the former’s voice will likely carry more weight. It’s a lingering pain, Bennett said, something that can sneak up on him whether he’s on the court or in bed, the first place he felt it.

There’s little certainty in the whole situation, other than that the Rebels would rather play with Bennett than without.

Taylor Bern can be reached at 948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Taylor on Twitter at twitter.com/taylorbern.

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  1. I hope Bennett does NOT play for three reasons:

    1) we have the talent to beat Nevada without him

    2) resting him gives his shoulder more time to heal

    3) given our previous road struggles, I think it would give the other guys that extra motivation to play hard, knowing that they can't rely on Bennett to carry them on the road

    Go Rebels! Let's crush the Pack!

  2. What I think we have seen is that Moser and Bennett on the floor at the same time is not very effective. Moser is infinitely better at the 4 than the 3. I thought that the ball movement and offensive execution was pretty good at Wyoming without AB in the line up. I certainly love his talent but with our depth I think we can beat teams like Nevada, Boise, and Fresno. But these are the Rebels that can fool us all and have many times and tomorrow's game is on the road. We shall see.

  3. @gumby2323 - Goodman wasn't even playing in those games, and Moser still was nowhere near 100%. This time around is different.

  4. I am with you phillips. They certainly should give those teams a beat down. I am just a little bit cautious. Would love nothing better than to see it!

  5. Hey Taylor, you misspelled "rebounder" in your sub heading.

    I think UNLV should probably rest Bennett if he is not close to 100%. It seems like Moser is getting closer to full health, and the more floor time he gets, it will help us in conference and NCAA tourney time.

    I think the way we have been playing, we can win without AB right now.