Rebel yells faintly heard

Feb 19, 2002 5:23 AM

Bashing Nevada-Las Vegas is not kosher, so we’ll focus our criticism this week on the local newspaper.

When columnists write that the UNLV basketball team “grew up before a nation’s eyes” during Monday night’s 72-64 comeback win over Utah, we submit that many in the audience were asleep.

The Rebels are improving, but look at who they’re playing. The Mountain West does not have a dominant team that can consistently win on the road. UNLV is ranked No. 73 in the Sagarin ratings, which means that the only way this group sees an NCAA bid is to win the league’s tournament. With T&M as host site, this should happen.

The Rebels are the hottest team in the league, (6-2 SU, 6-1 ATS in the last eight games) and have a legitimate shot to run the table right up to the NCAAs.

Charlie Spoonhour deserves credit for being a quality coach and a program builder, but this “coming of age” is a mirage. The fact is UNLV has had a soft home schedule that will come back to haunt them when facing a quality opponent.

The Rebels have not shown the ability to beat a Top 25-rated team and, more important, are not compelling in sports books or on a national level. Now that UNLV games can be wagered in Nevada, the interest isn’t there. If that law had existed during the Tarkanian era, the books would have been bombarded.

Attendance at home games are still a joke. The opening night game against Wisconsin drew just 10,769 and Monday’s Utah matchup attracted 10,218.

Maybe we’re being unfair to UNLV. However, in gaming where we search for people to talk about the Rebels, few do.

We enjoy seeing UNLV do well, just like wanting the NCAA to implode and let college sports continue to be wagered under the expert and legitimate guidance of Nevada Gaming.

For now, we’re not riding the UNLV wagon. We see the Rebels gaining an NCAA bid, earning a No. 9 seed and losing in the first round by 15 to a Ball State. Then, we’ll say we told you so. If not, save a seat on that buggy.