It was out there on full display for each member of the crowd of 9,956 to see.
“They are a good, solid team and they showed it,” Wolf Pack guard Deonte Burton said.
“That’s a better team,” Wolf Pack coach David Carter said.
The Rebels won for the fourth time in a row to improve to 22-7 overall and 9-5 in the Mountain West. The Wolf Pack lost for the fifth consecutive time to fall to 12-16, 3-11.
“We fought hard as a team,” said Wolf Pack guard Malik Story, who scored a game-high 24 points. “They just came out and hit shots. That’s a real good team. But they made tough shots and jumped on us.”
The Rebels also hit the Pack with a secret weapon. Junior forward Mike Moser, who was averaging just 6.9 points a game, scored 20 to stun the Pack. And all 20 came in the first half.
“Moser hit shots he hasn’t hit all year,” Story said.
The 6-foot-8 Moser was 8-of-13 from the floor in the first half as UNLV took a 46-25 lead at the break. In the second half he missed all four of his shots.
“It was one guy,” said Carter of Moser’s first-half explosion. “He really got them going. He hit a couple threes early but I just thought if we guarded him and put a hand on his face, we’d be all right. But he just continued to make threes.”
Moser drained three 3-pointers in the game’s first 2:30 as UNLV jumped out to a quick 11-4 lead. His fourth and final 3-pointer gave UNLV a 46-25 lead just 39 seconds before halftime.
“It was very surprising,” Carter said. “We didn’t even know he was going to start. We expected (Anthony) Bennett to start.”
Moser, who had just 10 3-pointers all season before Saturday, had made just two 3-pointers over his previous six games combined. He had three in the first 150 seconds against the Wolf Pack.
“He really got them off to a great start,” Carter said.
The Wolf Pack never really recovered.
The closest the Pack would come in the second half was 11 (65-54) after a 3-pointer by Story with just under eight minutes to play. Story’s 3-pointer capped a 29-15 run by the Pack after UNLV had opened up a 50-25 lead just 90 seconds into the second half.
“It started with defense,” said Burton, who had 18 points and five assists. “We got some stops and then we were off to the races and were able to score in transition.”
Story’s 3-pointer, though, was the end of the Pack fun.
Katin Reinhardt hit a 3-pointer to up UNLV’s lead to 68-54 and the 6-foot-5 freshman also completed a 3-point play for a 71-54 lead with seven minutes to go. Anthony Marshall had a lay-up and Khem Birch hit a jumper as the Rebels opened up a 77-56 lead with 2:49 left.
“We never really got over the hump and cut their lead to single digits,” Carter said. “But they made some big shots. When you play a team like that you can’t make a lot of mistakes. The margin for error is very small. They made us pay for our defensive breakdowns.”
The Rebels shot 56 % from 3-point range (10-of-18) and 48 % from the field (25-of-58) overall. The Pack made just 3-of-15 threes and just 25-of-63 (40 %) from the field.
“We messed up a little on defense and every possession against a team like that is crucial,” said the Wolf Pack’s Kevin Panzer, who had 10 points and six rebounds in 25 minutes.
The Rebels got just one point and seven rebounds from Bennett, who played just 17 minutes off the bench because of a sore shoulder. The 6-foot-8 freshman was averaging 17.0 points and 8.4 rebounds going into the game. Bennett, though, has played just 21 minutes combined in the Rebels’ last two games combined.
“They didn’t have to use him that much,” Carter said.
UNLV has now won eight in a row against the Wolf Pack and leads the series 56-19.
The Pack has now lost eight of its last nine games and 12 of its last 15 with just two games (New Mexico at home on March 6 and Colorado State on the road March 9) remaining on the schedule.
Carter, though, said the Wolf Pack can build off its performance against UNLV.
“I thought we kept fighting,” Carter said. “But when you play a team like that, you almost have to play every possession like its your last.”