Every loss hurts, but when you lose in the NCAA tournament, the pain seems be a little deeper. When I left The Pit in Albuquerque on March 15 after the Rebels fell to Colorado, I had that empty feeling in my stomach—and as I watched the coaching staff and the players board the bus, I knew we all must have felt the same.
It’s a feeling that doesn’t go away for a long time, and each time I’m close to a loss like that, I keep telling myself I don’t want to go through it again.
When I think about the Rebels’ many fans, and how far they travel to support the team, it’s got to hurt them just as much. I’ve always felt this way, and that was part of my motivation as a player—to make sure we didn’t let our supporters down. A lot of people care in Rebel Nation, and the numbers only increased this season.
This was the year The Rebellion was born, with hundreds of students waving those big cardboard heads of Lou Amundson and Mike Tyson. Attendance was up to 14,400 per game, an increase of nearly 1,000 from last season. At the start of the year, who would have expected the Thomas & Mack to sell out for a game against Wyoming? But that’s what happened: 18,577 fans in the house March 3 to send off the Rebels seniors in the last home game of the regular season.
As we look back at some of the great wins this season against USC, North Carolina, UC Santa Barbara, Illinois, San Diego State and New Mexico, those games gave hope and promise. But some of the losses made us realize the Rebels still had work to do.
After the Rebels game at Wyoming, a 68-66 loss on Feb. 4, the team lost some of its chemistry. Or maybe it was fatigue. Or injuries. But the Rebels never played the same again. Hopefully, next season’s squad will learn from this year and get through situations like this. To do so, they’ll need someone to stand up as the leader—emotionally, physically and verbally. I know the coaching staff will be ready to go. When you have a game like the Rebels did against Colorado, it stays with you for a long time.
And it’s a feeling no true Rebel ever wants to have.
Robert Smith, who played for UNLV from 1974-77, is a member of the Rebel radio broadcast team.