The first season of any college basketball coach’s tenure is filled with tone-setting moments—a series of firsts that can raise expectations or put the new boss on his heels before he’s even had the chance to step forward. Add the pressure of a city hungry for long-ago glory days and expectant that Dave Rice would bring them back to UNLV, and the Rebels’ 2011-12 season has been filled with moments of rare intensity that helped redefine the program in the community’s imagination. Some of those moments were exasperating; others were so sweet that they won’t be forgotten for a long time.
It’s all led to where the Rebels stand today: Despite late-season struggles, they are 25-7 and will head to the NCAA tournament for the fifth time in six years. Both on the court and off, the program appears to have a bright future.
As UNLV’s postseason voyage begins March 8 in the quarterfinals of the Mountain West Conference tournament at the Thomas & Mack Center, here is a countdown of the seven key moments that have defined the 2011-12 season.