When the Running Stopped

And on the seventh day, it still hurt.

This was to have been the year when Las Vegas’ stage-parent college basketball fans could bask in the more luxurious sort of vicarious living. Dizzy on a rich cocktail of decades-old glory, lingering bitterness about a dynasty denied and wild hopes raised by a Nov. 26 win over North Carolina, UNLV fans thought that—to paraphrase the prescient cover of the Rebels’ 1989-90 media guide—The Big Year Was Here. Again.

Even The New York Times got in the act, with a Jan. 22 story by William C. Rhoden—who covered the Rebels back in their heyday—proclaiming that “A Link to the Past Has the Rebels Runnin’ Again.” On Feb. 1, the Rebels were 21-3 and ranked No. 11 in the nation. They had scored 124 points in a Dec. 28 win over Central Arkansas, the most points they’d scored since 1991. They had a new student fan section, The Rebellion, equipped with a massive Mike Moser puppet.

Then Carlos Lopez’s ankle and Chace Stanback’s knee and Moser’s once-tireless engine all stopped working at the same time. The Rebels lost five of their last 10 Mountain West Conference games. Along the way, they achieved some truly remarkable road implosions. Still, they received a good seed and a (seemingly) favorable matchup in the NCAA tournament.

On March 15, in Albuquerque, N.M., the Rebels fell behind Colorado by 20 points with 12 minutes remaining. Then they put on the full-court press, forgot the aches and the pains and the mysterious psychic wounds the had made them helpless as wet kittens away from the Thomas & Mack Center, and closed the gap to two points with just over four minutes to go.

And that was as good as it got this less-than-mad March.

The madness quickly migrated to Twitter, where a number of fans quickly dispensed with the royal “We” and took aim at their erstwhile heroes. The Rebels, we were told by these two-sentence Shakespeares, were losers.

Well, yes, they had lost.

As a fan, though, you can’t choose your moments for vicarious living. This is well established in the universe, if not the Twitterverse. In Russian, for instance, the phrase for “to root” is bolet za—literally, to hurt for your team. In other words, it’s not just about the swagger, but the suffering, too.

And, at the end of this most painfully promising season, it’s not about you.

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Dave Rice and his staff would much rather be preparing for a Sweet Sixteen game this week. However, the UNLV coaches hardly had any time to sulk around following last week's 68-64 loss to Colorado in their NCAA tournament opener in Albuquerque, N.M.