UNLV basketball:

Rebels’ newcomers eager to live their dreams in NCAA Tournament

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Steve Marcus

Members of the UNLV men’s basketball team, from left, Khem Birch, Daquan Cook and Katin Reinhardt learn their selection while watching the NCAA Tournament selection show at the Mendenhall Center on Sunday, March 17, 2013. UNLV will play the Cal Golden Bears in its NCAA tournament opener Thursday at HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif.

CBS March Madness Theme

The Rebel Room

Rebels get a rematch in NCAA Tournament

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The brackets are out and the Las Vegas Sun sports team is here to discuss UNLV's draw as the 5-seed in San Jose, Calif., and a rematch with Cal.

The first eight notes are all you really need to hear. The tune is so unmistakable and tied to such a specific time of year that it’s strange to hear CBS’ College Basketball March Madness theme any other time.

From coast to coast, that song means one thing whether you’re an adolescent or an octogenarian: It’s time for the NCAA Tournament. That’s true for most of the Rebels, even if they grew up north of the border.

“The music,” UNLV sophomore Khem Birch said. “That theme song always comes to mind.”

For about half of UNLV’s rotation, hearing that music and watching games on the couch are all the experience they have to draw on for this year’s tournament. Six Rebels, including leading scorer and rebounder Anthony Bennett, have never played in or sat on the bench for an NCAA Tournament game.

That will change Thursday in San Jose, Calif., when the Rebels (25-9) tip off at 4:27 p.m. against Cal (20-11). The game is at HP Pavilion and will be televised on truTV.

Although they’ve never been there before, it will probably feel familiar. Considering how many tournaments they’ve collectively watched, it may feel like stepping into the TV.

“I think every kid grew up watching the NCAA Tournament,” freshman Savon Goodman said. “You see those guys who get to the Final Four and win the championship. It looks so special.”

To make a run, the Rebels will need a few of their newcomers to step up with big performances. That starts with Bennett, a first-team all-league pick who had 25 points and 13 rebounds in the Rebels’ 76-75 victory at Cal on Dec. 9.

Bennett’s dominant play for most of the Mountain West tournament suggests he can make his play match the bigger, do-or-die stage. He agreed with that assertion but only to the point that it’s helping the team win and not just scoring for scoring’s sake.

“If I do leave, I don’t want to be remembered as a player,” said Bennett, referring to his anticipated departure to the NBA. “I want to be remembered as a team.”

He’ll have that chance, but he’ll need help from more than just the veterans. Guys such as freshman Katin Reinhardt and sophomore Bryce Dejean-Jones are going to be asked to play big minutes that include the tough defensive task of trying to limit Golden Bears guards Justin Cobbs (15.5 points per game) and Allen Crabbe (18.7 ppg).

Crabbe especially can be a problem as he shoots a respectable 34.9 percent on 3s in an offense that likes to use screens much the same way New Mexico did in its tournament final victory against UNLV.

“All nine 3-pointers (the Lobos) made, we showed guys in the film room, came off of defensive mistakes by us,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said.

Those types of mistakes now could end the Rebels’ season, yet the task falls to guys who have never done it before. That’s just the way it is for UNLV.

Dejean-Jones or Birch, who wasn’t eligible for the first meeting between these teams, could end up deciding the game, as could Bennett or Reinhardt. Plus fellow freshmen Daquan Cook and Goodman are ready to come off the bench at a moment’s notice to help in any way they can.

“I’m looking at it normal, like a regular game,” Goodman said, “but it’s not a regular game.”

Rice feels the same way. He said he’s trying to prepare for this game the same way he did the first game against Cal, or any other game on the schedule.

Winning on the road should be accomplished the same way as winning at home, and playing this game should feel the same as the 34 before it. That’s the message from coaches and upperclassmen to the newcomers.

“Having said that, no one’s naive,” Rice said. “Everyone understands the magnitude of playing in the NCAA Tournament. It’s a big deal.”

And how do you know it’s such a big deal? Just listen to the music and feel how excited you get.

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 they understand that it's not just another game. It's the climax to the season and all the work they've done has gotten them to this point. They have a chance to be just another team in the dance or legendary from here on out.

    Survive and advance.

  2. @Sofakingbored (Wade Fasano) - I hope I'm right in that I think this year's team is different. Katin Reinhardt and Anthony Bennett especially seem to like the spotlight. I don't think they come out flat.