The Chiles Center on the campus of the University of Portland is, based on what I've seen on this site, very nice as mid-major arenas go. It's got a good size capacity (about 5000), but it's not too big like the Rose Garden or even Memorial Coliseum, the current and former arenas of the NBA's Trailblazers. The parking is free and plentiful, the concessions are appetizing and reasonably priced, and the seats are comfortable. When there's a good sized crowd the energy can be felt throughout the building. Historically, though, the fans usually come to see a marquee opponent rather than the Pilots. The Gonzaga game always sells out. The BYU game came close to selling out last season and that will be the case again come January 26. Oregon and Oregon State, when they were willing to play Portland (no I'm not bitter about it) would also attract large numbers of their fans. That would of course be expected from the state's two above-the-Red-Line schools.
Last night the Chiles Center welcomed the latest well-known visitor. The UNLV Runnin' Rebels are currently ranked 21st in the AP poll and coach Dave Rice is seeking to return them to the place they occupied in the 90s as one of the game's top teams. This game was to be a homecoming for junior Mike Moser, who starred for Portland's Grant High School. Unfortunately the game of life intervened and when he aggravated a hip injury in UNLV's previous game he was ruled out of last night's contest. Not only would he miss his chance to play in front of a large crowd of friends and family, the loss of his services meant the Rebels would have to go without their top rebounder and second-leading scorer.
If this was a recap for the local daily I would go into detail about Mr. Moser's sartorial choices and what he and his teammates had to say about missing the game instead of what happened during the game itself, and confuse Coach Rice with BYU coach Dave Rose as a bonus. But this is a mid-major recap and I'm not bothered (much) by the way the Pilots are treated in their own city.
It's likely the Portland students only knew UNLV was nationally ranked, the game was on ESPNU, there was a chance at free tuition for a semester, and there would be pizza and t-shirts. That combination seemed to be enough as the section was nearly full before tipoff, a definite rarity here. UNLV, for its part, filled nearly all the two sections on the far right of the above picture as well as scattered groups throughout the rest of the Chiles Center.
When the game actually began I just wanted to see how long the Pilots could hang with the Rebels and hopefully keep the score respectable. When Anthony Bennett, a mountain of a forward who's somehow just a freshman, blocked Portland's second shot, then scored the game's first basket with a fast break omgdunx seconds later, I thought the game might become out of reach for the Pilots from the very beginning. Portland, however, went on a 15-5 run in the first 10 minutes of the game to take an 8-point lead. Even better, the scoring came from five different Pilots. This would be a night when everyone on the team would have to play a part and execute almost flawlessly. That's what it takes to score the coveted Red Line Upset.
UNLV would not let the Pilots get too far away, though. The lead never got any bigger than eight, was as small as four, and eventually the half ended with Portland leading 28-22. It could have been much different either way. The Pilots only shot 37% for the half and missed a number of short-range shots. Against an opponent of UNLV's caliber every possession is valuable and empty ones have to be minimized. UNLV was even more ineffective, going 24% from the field with a single superhoop made in 15 attempts. It was hard to believe they would stay that cold for the entire game.
With 15:56 to go in the second, the Portland lead was back up to nine. A few more stops and a few more scores and things would get really interesting for the Pilots. But then the shots UNLV missed in the first half started falling. Reserve guard Justin Hawkins began making superhoops,, four in all, to cut the deficit, then help create a 9-point Rebels lead with ten minutes to play. An 18-point swing in about six minutes and it appeared the Pilot threat was over.
Over the next four and a half minutes though, six points by Thomas van der Mars, who looked to finally be developing some physicality to go with his technical qualities, and a superhoop by Korey Thieleke, the best surprise of the season, cut the Rebels lead to three with 5:24 to go. Once again Portland had hit back to make it a game. Unfortunately turnovers and empty possessions down the stretch meant the Pilots ran out of time and UNLV avoided the RLU by a final of 68-60. The winning margin was inflated by freshman Anthony Bennett's decision to go for one last omgdunx while leading by six with four seconds remaining. Bennett is a strong, athletic talent who will have a very good chance to play in the NBA. Before he gets there he may want to learn when it is customary and sporting to dribble out the clock. That said he was UNLV's biggest threat inside and led all scorers with 18 points. A very impressive talent.
In the end Portland could only think of what might have been had they been able to take advantage of more opportunities. and take better care of the basketball (21 turnovers will put you at a disadvantage, to put it mildly). Ryan Nicholas asserted his status as the leader of the team on the floor with another double-double: 15 points, '9 rebounds, and 6 assists as well. Thomas van der Mars played his best game of the season and nearly had a double-double himself with 11 points and 9 rebounds. The entire team put forth their best effort, continuing to compete for the entire game. As long as they play hard for the full 40 minutes their record will improve.
UNLV 68, at PORTLAND 60
Even after the loss I wasn't too disappointed. A back-and-forth game in front of a good sized crowd of 3.057 who created an excellent atmosphere is something I hadn't seen at a Pilot game in some time. I love the feeling of hanging on every possession, seeing if the next shot will be the turning point, watching teams trade baskets, and seeing how the players feed off the energy of the crowd. It's much better than being on either end of a blowout, or a game in a nearly empty arena, two sights that have been all too common. A win would have been great, but failing that, I'd missed being excited during a game. Getting that feeling back was what I liked most about last night.
UNLV 6-1 (0-0) -- K. Reinhardt 2-10 0-0 4; A. Marshall 5-11 5-6 16; A. Bennett 6-11 5-8 18; Q. Thomas 3-6 3-4 9; J. Hawkins 5-10 1-3 15; B. Dejean-Jones 0-9 2-4 2; C. Lopez-Sosa 1-3 1-2 3; S. Goodman 0-2 1-2 1. Totals 22-62 18-29 68.
PORTLAND 3-5 (0-0) -- R. Nicholas 6-14 2-3 15; K. Thieleke 5-12 1-2 12; D. Carr 3-6 0-0 9; T. van der Mars 5-6 1-2 11; O. Reinfelds 2-8 0-1 4; K. Bailey 1-6 0-0 2; R. Barker 3-6 1-1 7; D. Rodgers 0-0 0-0 0; T. Riley 0-2 0-0 0; J. Bailey 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-60 5-9 60.
Three-point goals: UNLV 6-25 (J. Hawkins 4-9; A. Marshall 1-3; B. Jones 0-6; A. Bennett 1-3; K. Reinhardt 0-4), PORT 5-16 (T. Riley 0-1; K. Thieleke 1-3; R. Nicholas 1-5; K. Bailey 0-1; D. Carr 3-4; O. Reinfelds 0-2); Rebounds: UNLV 36 (B. Jones 8), PORT 39 (R. Nicholas 19); Assists: UNLV 12 (A. Marshall 4), PORT 14 (R. Nicholas 6); Total Fouls -- UNLV 13, PORT 23; Fouled Out: UNLV-None; PORT-None.