Men’s Hoops: Utes final game closer than expected

The prospect of a better seeding for UNLV in next week’s MWC tournament wasn’t on the line as it was for Utah on Saturday, but the Rebels played like it was anyway, and it might have ended up working in their favor.

Curtis Terry had 22 points, 10 assists and five rebounds as UNLV beat the U men’s basketball team 70-63 at the site of next week’s conference championship.

A win would have given the Utes a No. 5 seed in the upcoming MWC Championships. An Air Force loss would have done the same, but the Falcons took care of San Diego State, meaning Utah will have to settle for the No. 6 spot. A TCU loss to BYU later in the day was the only thing that prevented Utah from winding up with the No. 7 seed, which would have left them in a rematch with the Rebels, who have won 12 straight on their home floor.

Given UNLV’s size disadvantage, the game was set up to be a battle of Utah’s inside presence versus the combination of UNLV’s speed and shooting ability.

The game turned out to be a much more closely contested regular season finale than the opening five minutes suggested.

UNLV took early leads of 7-0 and 13-4 before Utah fought its way back behind Luke Nevill’s 12 first-half points, including eight that came during a 10-3 Utah run. Foul trouble still haunted the Ute center, who was forced to watch the last four minutes and 10 seconds of the first half from the bench. Even without Nevill, Utah managed to escape the first half with a 30-29 lead.

In the second half, Terry took his already solid Senior Night to a new level. Terry hit multiple big shots, including the dagger with 52 seconds left, which came after a costly turnover by Nevill that could have tied the game at 63.

Joe Darger’s strip of Nevill with nearly a minute to play was hardly the only moment in the game that did the Runnin’ Utes in. Senior forward Corey Bailey — who finished with 14 points of his own on UNLV’s Senior Night — flushed a UNLV miss to break a 61-61 tie with 1 1/2 minutes left in the game

In the end, it was UNLV’s perimeter shooting had the largest hand in preventing the Utes from evening their conference record at 8-8. After the game, the former walk-on Terry left the court as the leader in MWC appearances in conference history.

Utah’s Carlon Brown played an uncharacteristic 31 minutes in an attempt to not only match Utah up with the faster UNLV guards but to drive the ball into the paint and create open looks for his teammates. Brown did exactly that in his longest playing stint of the season.

Despite UNLV’s distinct size advantage, the Rebels out-rebounded the Utes, 31-28. Despite the loss, the Utes showed they can compete in the Thomas and Mack Center. The only problem is, instead of facing a depleted San Diego State team limping into the conference championships in the first round, the Utes will now face a New Mexico team that swept Utah on the season and has won eight of their last nine games.

Utah will tip off against the Lobos at 9:30 MDT on Thursday.

[email protected]