When UNLV was announced as the No. 5 seed in the East region during the official NCAA tournament selection show, there was an outbreak of applause at the team’s viewing party. People were excited about the seeding and the San Jose location.
But when the opponent was announced, the applause turned to confusion. It took a moment to process that yes, the first-round foe was indeed Cal. The same Cal team that the Rebels had already played (and beaten) back on Dec. 9.
You could sense the general feeling among the players and coaches: A first-round rematch?
One second later, the feeling was gone, replaced by that unique March Madness-y excitement.
A sampling of reaction from the Rebels:
Could Thomas play hero again?
Quintrell Thomas, who beat the buzzer with a last-second putback in the first game against Cal, says this game will be a challenge: “Being how I had to make a buzzer-beater, it shows how good a team they are. We barely got out of that one alive.”
As for the seeding and opponent, Thomas was okay with how things worked out: “My first thought was, ‘We got a five seed, so that shows they have a lot of respect for our conference.’ I’m excited. I didn’t really care who was in the next slot, but it’s definitely exciting that we’re going up a team we’ve played against. We know what to expect. There’s no uncertainty there.”
Thomas believes he could be a factor in this meeting, too. Here’s how he describes his role: : “Pretty much keep any big man from exceeding their regular stats. We just want to shut down the post, and at least not let that be a factor in the game.”
Dejean-Jones thinks Rebels are improved
Sophomore Bryce Dejean-Jones knows how tough this matchup was the first time around, but thinks the Rebels are better than they were on Dec. 9: “Basically it came down to the end, with Q having to get that putback. And we know it’s going to be another tough game this time. But with the addition of Mike Moser being healthy this time, and adding Khem Birch, I believe we have an even better chance.”
Bennett excited about first NCAA experience
Growing up in Canada, freshman Anthony Bennett said he didn’t have much exposure to the NCAA tournament as a kid. When asked for his earliest March Madness memory, he went all the way back to 2009: “I remember Villanova was my favorite team, so I think it was Scottie Reynolds. That was my favorite player in college.”
Bennett also said he’s not concerned about his shoulder after averaging 19.0 points per game in the Mountain West tournament: “My shoulder is fine now. I’m not trying to really think about it, I’ve just got to put it behind me now.”
How do you think the Rebels will do against Cal on Thursday? Tell us in the comments.