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March 15, 2014

Rebels bow out

It has finally reached its end.

The long, gut-wrenching 2013-14 UNLV Runnin' Rebel season concluded on Friday night with a 59-51 loss to No. 1 seed San Diego State in the Mountain West Conference Tournament.

It was the third defeat UNLV suffered at the hands of the league leading Aztecs. And, quite frankly, none were as close as the scores may indicate.

The Rebels, who reached the 20-win plateau for the season, for whatever that is worth, never seemed to learn much from the previous losses to SDSU. UNLV continued to dribble too much and shoot way too many long range jumpers against a defensive stalwart that wants you to do exactly that.

In other words, the Rebels played right into the Aztecs hands. Again.

With no effective game plan on the offensive end, UNLV tried one too many times to simply break the Aztec defense down with dribble penetration. After that didn't work, the Rebels either forced tough shots with Aztecs draped all over them or 3-pointers that didn't fall until the game's final minutes.

There's a reason that SDSU is on the cusp of a 30-win season and ranked No. 8 nationally. It just doesn't beat itself and forces other teams to be uncomfortable for much of the game.

Khem Birch, who was a question mark if he'd play at all, led the Rebels with 39 minutes. He pulled in 15 rebounds, scored six points and blocked five shots. He was, above everything else, the brightest star during an otherwise forgettable season.

The Rebels will begin a long offseason with a team meeting scheduled for tomorrow. With an NIT invitation unlikely, UNLV is doubtful to pony up the dough required to compete in either the CBI or the CollegeInsiders event.

Actually, the bigger questions will revolve around what type of changes will be on the horizon for the Rebels. Which players will be returning? Could a coach be on the move to open up a spot on the bench?

Anything and everything is possible at this point. Head coach Dave Rice has set expectations through the roof since his arrival. In his fourth year and one of the Rebels' best recruiting classes ever in 2014, the challenge will be turning those high hopes into reality.

That begins tomorrow. Heck, maybe it even started tonight. Whatever the case, expect an offseason full of change and breaking news moments.

If it changes the results on the court next season, it will all be worth it.



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