Rebel writer admits Utes are best

By Matt Maxson, The Rebel Yell

A lot of things didn’t stack up for the Rebels against the Utes. Namely, 6-foot-7-inch forward Joe Darger against Utah’s Luke Nevill.

The Utes played as though they were the conference champions, and UNLV as though they were the No. 5 team in the conference.

I have to admit (because I lost a bet to Chronicle Sports Editor Tony Pizza) that the Utes are the best team in the Mountain West Conference. Nevill is a potential MWC Player of the Year and the U has earned its trip to the NCAA Tournament.

By effectively shutting down Darger and MWC Preseason Co-Player of the Year Wink Adams, the Utes passed an important test before they travel to Las Vegas to play in the UNLV Invitational8212;formerly known as the MWC Tournament.

Now, I’m not going to give it all away like a 16-year-old on her trip to junior prom8212;the Utes still need to hunker down if they expect to play well at the Thomas & Mack Center. The Rebels forced 20 turnovers, including one right out of Nevill’s bread basket. UNLV was also able to penetrate the paint for 20 points. Walk-on forward René Rougeau (whose name apparently means sissy girl in French8212;according to one fan in the MUSS section), who lit up for 19 points, said it best.

“We could have easily won that game,” Rougeau said.

It’s true. If Luka Drca’s 3-pointer, his only field goal of the game, strayed from the basket, then the Rebels probably would have continued their 9-0 run.

But of course, that didn’t happen. Drca hit his shot and the Rebels went from looking at a trip to the NCAA Tournament to hosting a first round game of the National Invitational Tournament.

So consider the sports team from Las Vegas properly punished. I had to witness the defeat, hear about it from my family in Layton, write this concession and cover the NIT. The only good thing about this trip was that I found an 80-mph zone, which was awesome.

But of course, there is one story that is bigger than all of this. Salt Lake City is now home to the premier sports school in the MWC and one of the top programs in the western region. The U has solidified itself as a national powerhouse in football and basketball, just five years after having the No. 1 draft pick in the NBA and NFL.

Although it’s unlikely they’ll split No. 1 picks this year, a deep run in the NCAA Tournament could give the U a claim to No. 1 in both sports.

For that, you should all throw your U’s up…until you come to Vegas.

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The Rebel Yell

Matt Maxson