Watching the Rebels grow up fast this season has been great. But now with some big road games coming, it’s hard not to wonder if they’ve grown up enough. My feeling is with the talent and depth of this team, the Rebels should be able to play with tough teams away from the Thomas & Mack Center. Against UC Santa Barbara on Nov. 30, the Rebels proved that they could hold on in a roller-coaster ride that took two overtimes to win. You could see in each player’s face how much it meant to come away with that win. The next day, the Rebels took a two-hour bus ride to Burbank, Calif., and then a bumpy plane ride back to Las Vegas.
After a day of rest, it was back on the road for the UNLV basketball team—and in the back of my mind I was thinking how happy I am that I don’t have to travel and play anymore. My body hurts from all the travel just to broadcast the games, so I can imagine how the players are feeling right about now.
So Sunday’s loss to Wichita State, while disappointing, was no big surprise. What many fans don’t understand is that many big-time programs will not schedule a game with the Shockers in their arena. It’s one of the toughest places to win a game, and the Rebels found that out early. UNLV jumped out to a quick lead with the help of Brice Massamba’s work in the post, but the sharpshooting of Wichita State point guard Joe Ragland was too much for the road-weary Rebels. When the fans came alive, it seemed as though a tornado was roaring through the town. Those fans give that team a 10-point advantage, and I’ve heard that from other coaches. It’s an experience the Rebels can use down the road: Jump on teams like that early, and keep the crowd out of the game.