The last time Dave Rice traveled with a UNLV basketball team to Boise State, it was possibly one of the more bizarre and disappointing moments of his coaching career. You could even call it turbulent.
Things are much different this time around.
Rewind nearly eight years ago. The Rebels had rallied behind the coaching of Rice and interim head coach Jay Spoonhour to nearly capture an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament before Utah’s Nick Jacobson denied the Rebels with a last-second 3-pointer in the Mountain West Conference tournament championship game.
The players’ moods were completely sour. And it wasn’t just because UNLV fell short of an unexpected NCAA bid. A roster full of Rebels that trusted Rice and Spoonhour also was hurting because the coaches weren’t likely to return after news broke that UNLV would be hiring Lon Kruger as head coach.
Most of the players didn’t want to make the journey to Boise to play an opening-round game in the National Invitation Tournament. Heck, starters J.K. Edwards and Odartey Blankson didn’t even bother to make the flight to Idaho with their teammates, although they did arrive later.
It was a week of disappointment and bruised feelings, culminating in what was arguably the most miserable postseason effort in Rebel history—a 84-69 thumping by the Broncos that wasn’t close from the tip, as Boise State hit its first six shots and jumped out to a 15-2 lead.
This trip is a lot different as Rice is returning to Boise with a squad that many observers believe is the best UNLV team since the Jerry Tarkanian era.
Rice can wipe away one of his most trying professional memories with a sizeable victory tonight. But just to be on the safe side, he might have been counting heads at McCarran International Airport before Tuesday’s flight.