It was a rude wake-up call for UNLV basketball fans Saturday suffering a rather humbling loss to a team that the Runnin' Rebels really had no business succumbing to.
It's one thing to lose to Air Force at Clune Arena. It's entirely different to fall to the Academy on your own floor. The Falcons had won five road games in the Mountain West in the last three seasons.
Prior to this year and the Rebels losing four games at home, the Thomas & Mack Center used to be one of the more feared arenas in the league. If you throw in the losses to Fresno State and New Mexico in March last season, UNLV has lost six games at home in its last 14 played in front of the home crowd.
But, all is not really lost. Even if the Rebels had won that game over the weekend against AFA, the biggest part of their season was still going to be ahead of them over the next couple weeks. String together a few victories and UNLV is right in the thick of the MWC hunt. Come up with a few stinkers and this season could go from disappointment to humiliating.
That's the position UNLV has put itself in. The rival Wolfpack of UNR come to visit tomorrow evening before two very large road games loom. Trips to New Mexico and San Diego State over a four day stretch will likely decipher what the Rebels are made of.
There's hope for UNLV, despite how it struggled to score, defend or rebound against Air Force. The Rebels had been playing very solid basketball, albeit against fairly low competition, but the confidence and team oriented play was definitely there.
Also, and this can't be dismissed too lightly. UNLV may have played its best game of the year when it traveled to Arizona and a battle with the nation's now top ranked Wildcats. The Rebels didn't play with any fear or hesitation. They took it to the 'Cats for much of that contest, but were unable to finish down the stretch (which may turn out to be the biggest problem of all for UNLV as the season unfolds).
It's impossible for head coach Dave Rice and the Rebels to turn back time and erase what has already transpired this season. What they can do is find a way to make an impact the rest of the way.
No team is good enough in the MWC this year to runaway and hide in the standings. This league will be won with 10 or 11 wins, and that's with the added games.
In just over a week's time, UNLV will know exactly where it falls in the league hierarchy. There's no other way for the Rebels to look at it but that way.