After a fast start by the California Bears on Dec. 9, UNLV responded like a team beginning to find its identity and pulled out a tough road win, 76-75. Not only could the win be important for the Rebels’ RPI later this season—Cal is one of the favorites in the Pac-12—but it was an important gut-check in front of a hostile crowd. As the Rebels tightened up their defense late in the first half, you could see the confidence of the Cal players start to waver. For the Rebels, both Anthonys—Bennett and Marshall—started well, and Bryce Dejean-Jones had what I called his coming-out party, scoring from all over the floor.
The bad news, of course, was Mike Moser’s dislocated elbow, suffered when he dove for a loose
ball and Cal point guard Brandon Smith fell on him. As Moser tried to get up, he said there was no feeling in his right hand. Later he said that when he looked his arm he knew something wasn’t right—and the pain was intense.
I wondered how the Rebels would react to seeing Moser—their leading rebounder and second-leading scorer—hurt. As it turns out, they reacted by getting even tougher on defense. On offense, meanwhile, Dejean-Jones and Bennett pretty much took over the game. Bennett had stretch where he changed the trajectory of the game with a series of dunks, rebounds and steals to give the Rebels the lead. Toward the end of the game, Bennett made a play that let me know he’s a rare player: He caught the ball on the right-side baseline and beat his man with one step. Then, as he approached a defender who was trying to take a charge, he moved his body sideways to avoid him, and dunked as hard as he could. I knew I’d just seen something special from a special player.
At the end of the game, when the Rebels were down one with 38 seconds to go, Marshall had the ball. He raced up court and couldn’t find anyone. He wound up shooting an airball, but Quintrell Thomas—filling in for Moser—grabbed the ball and scored to put the Rebels up one, 76-75. Cal had one last chance from full court, but the shot was blocked by Justin Hawkins. That last series, in which two players off the bench were the heroes, was a fitting ending for a game when the Rebels learned how to come together as a team in the face of adversity.