Rebels basketball:

Moser opens March with a return to form in UNLV’s romp at UNR

The junior forward started for the first time in a month and scored a season-high 20 points as the Rebels won 80-63

Image

Jeremy Rincon / Special to the Sun

UNLV’s Mike Moser helps Katin Reinhardt get up off the floor Saturday, March 2, 2013, during the Rebels’ 80-63 victory at the Lawlor Events Center.

UNLV-UNR basketball

UNLV's Anthony Bennett and a UNR player go after the ball Saturday, March 2, 2013, during the Rebels' 80-63 victory at the Lawlor Events Center. Launch slideshow »
The Rebel Room

Breaking down the brackets

  • You need to upgrade your Flash Player

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.

RENO — The sound of the ball swishing through the net just sounds better at Lawlor Events Center than it does most places, UNLV’s Mike Moser said in explaining his breakout performance here Saturday afternoon.

He’s only half-serious, maybe even closer to a quarter. This is the kind of mood you could find Moser in after most victories last season and earlier this year. He’d wink or stare you down until breaking into a smile and his answers often started with "Ah, man" or ended with "For sure."

All of this is to say that in UNLV’s dominant 80-63 victory against UNR, its eighth straight in the series, Moser resembled his old form more closely than ever since his elbow injury, and maybe this year entirely.

“Ah man, it feels really good,” Moser said. “I’ve been so up and down with my injury and this or that. I’ve been waiting for a game to get me back in the flow, and I think this is the one that’s going to keep me going for the rest of the season.”

The Rebels drew up the first play to get Moser a shot, which he drained from the corner. He added a second 3-pointer in the first minute and closed the first half with another, his fourth, which put the Rebels (22-7, 9-5) up by 21 at the break.

Moser didn’t score again, but he already had a season-high 20 points and the Wolf Pack (12-16, 3-11) never got closer than 11 despite a combined 42 points from Deonte Burton and Malik Story.

“Moser hit shots he hasn’t hit all year,” said Story, who guarded the Rebels’ junior about half the time.

UNLV finished its most complete road game of the season, shooting 48.3 percent from the field, 55.6 percent from behind the three-point line and 87.5 percent at the free-throw line. All five starters scored in double figures and, perhaps more impressive than all of that, the Rebels committed only nine turnovers.

“That’s a huge number,” said UNLV coach Dave Rice, whose team had averaged 17.3 turnovers per game over the past three.

That’s the second-fewest turnovers in a game for the Rebels this season, trailing only seven against UC Irvine on Nov. 28. That game also contained Moser’s previous season high in points, when he scored 19 for the second time of the season. A week and a half later, his right elbow was bent into an unspeakable position in a win at Cal, and the rest of the season has been an uphill battle.

There have been glimmers of it, flashes of what Rice would call Mike Moser playing like the Mike Moser we used to see. The difference between those moments and what we saw Saturday may simply be the misfortune of another Rebel.

Last Saturday, freshman Anthony Bennett started but played only four minutes, allowing Moser to step back into the power forward spot and tally 11 points and seven rebounds in 23 minutes. That’s the most he played since the first game against UNR, and he surpassed it Saturday with a start and 29 minutes.

“I thought he played his most complete game of the season since the injury at Wyoming on Saturday,” Rice said. “He’s practiced well, his attitude has been great and he’s feeling good about his game.”

Against UNR, Bennett came off the bench with one point and seven rebounds in 17 minutes while Khem Birch rounded out the main interior rotation with 10 points, six rebounds and a career-high seven blocks.

Moser’s best games have almost all started with a shot on UNLV’s first possession. He’s a different player when he gets involved early, which he wasn’t able to do while coming off the bench the past eight games.

“I think it helped me starting today because I was able to get in a rhythm right away,” Moser said. “For sure.”

Just as important as the points was Moser’s ability to grab a rebound and start a fast break on his own. It’s amazing how much that changes what the Rebels can do when all of sudden it’s there consistently after being absent much of the past three months.

“It’s one of the best things Mike does,” Rice said, “and it makes us so hard to guard because of our ability to run the floor when we have a 4-man who can (grab a defensive rebound) and push it up.”

The Rebels’ other double-digit scorers included Bryce Dejean-Jones (17), Katin Reinhardt (14) and Anthony Marshall (11). The former two were the ones answering every attempted Wolf Pack comeback, especially Reinhardt, who grew the lead from 11 to 17 in about 30 seconds with a 3-pointer and an and-one jumper. UNR didn’t get any closer than 15 after that.

UNLV finished the road conference slate at 3-5, which didn’t seem likely after bleak nights at Fresno State and Air Force. The victory also keeps the Rebels in play for the 2 seed in the Mountain West tournament.

Entering Saturday night’s Colorado State game at Boise State, the Rebels are a half-game back of the Rams with the tiebreaker (a series split against New Mexico). The difference between the 2 and the 3 could be the difference between playing Wyoming and playing Air Force, the current 7 and 6 seeds, respectively.

There’s a much different feeling among the players right now than at the beginning of March last season, when things were trending the wrong way. A four-game winning streak with two very winnable games at home to close out the regular season breeds hope in the locker room, where they’re talking about playing their best basketball in March. Moser already held up his end.

“The team that peaks at the right time, they’re going to keep going,” Moser said. “… If we can keep this up — and come Mountain West tournament time, that’s when we peak and keep rolling from there — we’ll be just fine.”

For sure.

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

Join the Discussion:

Check this out for a full explanation of our conversion to the LiveFyre commenting system and instructions on how to sign up for an account.

Full comments policy

Previous Discussion: 12 comments so far…

Comments are moderated by Las Vegas Sun editors. Our goal is not to limit the discussion, but rather to elevate it. Comments should be relevant and contain no abusive language. Comments that are off-topic, vulgar, profane or include personal attacks will be removed. Full comments policy.

  1. Mike Moser makes the Rebels a different team. They're pretty much impossible to beat when he plays well. Also, the team as a whole is finally starting to play with a killer instinct and an edge. Now is the perfect time to do so.

  2. they looked good in the win today, doing a lot of the things we hoped we'd see earlier this season. hopefully this is what we get from them the rest of the way.

  3. I'll give credit to the Rebels when credit is due. They played very good today overall, starting well and scoring timely shots while countering the rally put up by UNR instead of the usual selfish plays and turnovers we used to see the past couple of months on the road. Hope they continue this going to the tournament.

  4. Having only 9 turnovers is a huge step in the right direction compared to the last few weeks where having 15 turnovers would have been an improvement! So nice to see Moser getting back in the swing of things but it sure seems like if Moser plays well, Bennett plays poorly and vice versa. I understand that AB is not 100% but it is a little worrisome to me that he seems to be so ineffective offensively as of late. Again, so nice to have quality depth. Khem Birch is becoming the quiet MVP of this team. The kid is a shot blocking machine. What a difference he has made! Big game shaping up against a Boise team that will be desperate for a win. Runnin' Rebels!

  5. @gumby2323 - As good as Bennett is, a healthy Moser is much more important to the Rebels' success. When he's healthy, they play faster and have an edge to them.

    As a team, they seem to have developed a killer instinct.

  6. I wouldn't say Bennett played bad, I think he played well, but he only took three shots, but had some good passes to teammates that led to open shots, also some good rebounding. I also notice a couple of times he got the ball in the post and through it back out. That will pay huge in the long run overall, because his points will come.

  7. If Moser comes back next year this team will be better than they are now with Bennett. Bennett can go to the NBA and dog it with the rest of the slugs.

    Birch is the guy who one day will be a TRUE lottery pick. I expect his offensive game to take a big step up next year- and he already is a shot blocking animal.

  8. @rose1414 (aj foyt) - Birch looks more comfortable on offense. He's not passing up open jumpers anymore. Also, he looks more comfortable with his back to the basket.

  9. He's Back! Way to go Moser!

  10. If Moser continues to play like last night, I like him starting over Bennett. Moser seems to play better when he starts.

  11. @patticcus - I know that Rice said that Moser will play at the 4 for the rest of the season, but maybe he can start both Moser and Bennett. Rice has a tough decision on his hands going forward.

  12. Good for Mike. He seems like a great kid with a great attitude. Nice to see him rounding back into form with the games getting bigger.