The road to the NCAA tournament just got a lot tougher.
In a key Mountain West Conference matchup on Saturday night, the CSU menâ€™s basketball team lost 68-61 to the
University of Nevada-Las Vegas and saw its lead in third place shrink to a half game.
Junior guard Oscar Bellfield was the catalyst for a second half comeback by UNLV (20-7, 8-5 MWC). The Rams led by five at halftime, but Bellfield scored 16 points, including four three-pointers in the half, to lead the charge for the Runninâ€™ Rebels. As a team, UNLV shot 42 percent from long range. For the season, the Rebels only shoot 30 percent from behind the arc.
â€œWe played to what their track record was. Theyâ€™re not that good a shooting team, but theyâ€™re still Division-I players and theyâ€™re going to throw some in,â€ senior Andy Ogide said. â€œWe didnâ€™t do a good job of attacking them or fighting back after they hit us with a couple threes.â€
The storm of three-pointers may not have been as damaging if CSU (18-8, 8-4 MWC) had built up a bigger lead in the first half when the opportunity presented itself.
The Rams held the Rebels to 22 points and 25.7 percent shooting in the first half. But UNLV had eight offensive rebounds and forced 10 CSU turnovers.
The combination of those two things allowed the Rebels to take nine more shot attempts than the Rams in the half, which all but negated the advantage CSU held by shooting 42 percent in the half.
On the night, UNLV had a total of 14 offensive rebounds and forced 17 turnovers, which led to 18 more shots than the Rams.
The disjointed offensive effort from the Rams translated into a poor effort in other parts of the game.
â€œTonight we had some guys that their poor offensive performance really affected the way they defended and rebounded,â€ CSU coach Tim Miles said. â€œThat was disappointing to me with our team. You canâ€™t let things like that affect you. You have to go out and keep competing.â€
The lack of production from key players Travis Franklin (zero points, one rebound, five turnovers), Adam Nigon (three points) and Greg Smith (four points) helped doom CSU.
While the loss damages CSUâ€™s tournament hopes, they are far from over.
â€œWe think to be an at large bid going into the (MWC) postseason tournament we need 11 (conference) regular season wins,â€ Miles said. â€œWeâ€™re at eight. We have four games left. Do the math. Thatâ€™s where we think weâ€™re at. Thatâ€™s what weâ€™re going to try to achieve.â€
To reach 11 conference wins the Rams would have to beat one of the top-10 teams, San Diego State or Brigham Young, on the road.
CSU heads to Provo to face BYU at 6 p.m. on Wednesday.
Menâ€™s basketball Beat Reporter Kevin Lytle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
CSU 61 vs. UNLV 68