No Rams repeat

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Mar 122004
 
Authors: Vince Blaser

DENVER – The tank ran out of gas with about 7 minutes and 30

seconds left the Mountain West Conference semifinals.

The CSU men’s basketball team’s hopes of repeating last season’s

miracle run to win the Mountain West Conference tournament and

advancing to the NCAA tournament were dashed in a 80-73 loss to

Nevada – Las Vegas, who were literally the Runnin’ Rebels Friday

night.

“Our conditioning is really good,” UNLV interim head coach Jay

Spoonhour said. “We get much better looks the final 10 minutes of

the game than we get at any other time.”

The Rams battled back from an 11-point deficit in the second

half to take a 56-55 lead with 8:20 to play in the game. However,

the game came unraveled for CSU when Rebel guards Demetrius Hunter

and Jerel Blassingame hit consecutive 3-pointers with 6:55 and 6:18

to play to give the Rebels a six-point lead.

The Rams never recovered.

Hunter had a wide open look on his 3-pointer because CSU guard

Jon Rakiecki was out of position after an attempted steal went

right off his hands.

“I thought I had the steal, it was in my hands,” Rakiecki said.

“Hunter made the big shot and it definitely turned the game

around.”

UNLV had five players in double figures, including 19 from

Blassingame and 21 from 6-foot-7 forward Odartey Blankson, who

showed his range by hitting three of the four 3-pointers he

attempted.

“Blankson is a terrific player who can hurt you in a lot of

ways,” CSU head coach Dale Layer said.

Blassingame penetrated the Rams defense and gave the Rebels good

looks all night long, which prompted Layer to take out freshman

point guard Dwight Boatner for the more defensive-minded Derrick

Stevens.

“(Blassingame) is really, really fast and it’s hard to keep him

under control,” said senior forward Ronnie Clark, who finished with

15 points and five rebounds. “That helped them get some

momentum.”

Clark and forward Matt Williams led the 13-2 run in the second

half that gave the Rams the lead. Center Matt Nelson, who led the

Rams with 20 points and went 10 for 10 from the free throw line,

sat on the bench with four fouls for most of the Rams run. Nelson

did not return until well after Hunter and Blassingame hit the

3-pointers.

“You don’t want to keep (Nelson) off the floor for very long,

but he was in foul trouble,” Layer said. “It was much more of what

they did than who was on the floor.”

The first half had little flow. UNLV shot bonus free throws with

12:06 left in the first half and the officials called 29 first-half

fouls. However, the amount of whistles slowed in the second half.

Rakiecki expressed frustration in the inconsistency in the

officiating.

“When (the officials) are being inconsistent, it’s hard to

adjust to that,” Rakiecki said. “It’s hard for players to have a

touch foul on one end, regardless of what team it’s against, and

then on the other end get hammered with a no call.”

UNLV will take on Utah in the championship game at 8 tonight at

Pepsi Center on ESPN. The championship game will match up two

interim head coaches that took over the team because of ailments to

the head coach. Spoonhour took over for his dad Charlie, while Utah

coach Kerry Rupp took over for Rick Majerus.

The Rams, meanwhile, finished the year two wins away from the

NCAA tournament and a 13-16 record.

“We didn’t quite have the magic that we had a year ago, but I’m

really proud of our team,” Layer said.

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