THE BIRCH FACTOR - Surrounded on a frontline by Anthony Bennett and Mike Moser leaves little room for Khem Birch to get much notice from fans and pundits.
But as the smoke cleared at Viejas Arena on Wednesday night, Birch was the only one of the three to see time down the stretch and was a deciding factor in the Runnin' Rebels, 82-75, victory over San Diego State, UNLV's first in five years.
Birch's 12 points, five rebounds and five blocks may not be the eye-popping statistics that jump out of the box score but his key plays down the stretch gives hope to UNLV for the future.
With less than 30 seconds left, Birch went high to haul in a rebound on an Anthony Marshall miss. Without hesitation, Birch may a difficult putback look easy with his left hand to give the Rebels a five-point advantage.
On the defensive end, Birch was spectacular all night. His block tally on gave him partial credit for effort. Many more shots were altered because of Birch's ability. His presence was certainly felt throughout the game by driving San Diego State players that missed a handful of layups, simply because they were rushed.
It's been so long that UNLV faithful may have forgotten what it's like to have this type of intimidator in the middle of the paint. It's the area that SDSU has had the edge on the Rebels for so long.
It looks like that pendulum has finally swung in UNLV's direction thanks to Birch.
MARSHALL DELIVERS - Anthony Marshall took one shot from the field in UNLV's last game against Air Force. Afterwards, Marshall's reasoning was that he was trying to play the point guard position and make plays for his teammates rather than look out for himself.
He didn't have that luxury on the road at SDSU.
The Rebels were in trouble in the second half and Marshall knew it. From that point on, he went back to what he knows best, finding a way to score a tough bucket.
After a drought in which UNLV went scoreless for nearly six minutes, Marshall took over the game. He scored nine points in the last nine minutes. None of the buckets were easy and he seemed to just will his team on the offensive end of the floor.
Marshall may not have all the intangibles that people look for in their point guard but there is no denying that he brings a huge heaping of toughness, something that can't be learned on the job. You only have it or you don't.
Yes, the player that takes the biggest beating from fans and media was the one that delivered time and time again. That takes guts to make those plays down the stretch.
UNLV will only go as far as Marshall can lead it. If Wednesday was an indicator, the Rebels have a chance to go far.
SIGNATURE SIGNED - This was the last opportunity for this group to secure themselves a victory that they could hang their hat on come "Selection Sunday".
Consider the Rebels signature signed.
This win will go a long way whenever the committee takes a look at UNLV in March. Until Wednesday, no team had won at Viejas. And this will likely be the Aztecs lone blemish at home the rest of the way.
The Rebels had their chances in earlier games to pick up a much needed quality win but failed to do so against Oregon, North Carolina and New Mexico. UNLV was in it until the end in all three of those games before succumbing down the stretch.
In order for the Rebels to not be looked at as a team with lots of potential but little substance, UNLV needed this outcome in a very bad way.
DRIVER'S SEAT? - The three main teams in contention for the MWC crown this season (UNLV, SDSU and New Mexico) aren't going to give up their home court advantage often, so does beating the Aztecs on the road give the Rebels an advantage in league play?
At this point, you would have to think that it does.
After two weeks of conference play only UNM is unblemished, yet the Lobos had to go to overtime last night for a victory at Boise State. That's how crazy the MWC is this season.
A road win, any road win, is one that could help put a team in a position to secure the crown. Winning at San Diego State is a crowned jewel.
The Rebels will have another opportunity to cement themselves as the frontrunner when they play at Colorado State on Saturday, which is another arena that few visiting teams are going to be victorious.
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