The last thing UNLV needed in the weeks before they begin Mountain West was to lose one of their best players to an injury.
But that’s exactly what happened in the first half of their game at California on Sunday, as junior forward Mike Moser left the game with a dislocated right elbow.
Moser suffered the injury diving for a loose ball, and this was his first game back after sitting out Tuesday’s win at Portland due to a hip flexor.
With Moser out of the lineup even more was asked of freshman Anthony Bennett and the Canadian stepped up, scoring 13 points and grabbing eight rebounds in the first half. Bennett would finish the game with 25 points and 13 rebounds but it was senior Quintrell Thomas who made the difference, as his put back with 1.2 seconds remaining gave the Rebels a 76-75 victory in Berkeley.
UNLV shot just 5-of-17 from beyond the arc but their 37-25 edge on the glass (with 14 offensive rebounds) and 32-18 points in the paint advantage kept them afloat down the stretch.
Bryce Dejean-Jones, who entered Sunday’s game mired in a shooting slump, scored 22 points (7-of-11 FG) and Anthony Marshall added 13.
Allen Crabbe led four Golden Bears in double figures with 18 points but California did themselves in at the foul line. Cal shot 52.8% from the field but made just 15 of their 28 free throws, and with UNLV shooting as they did from the perimeter a better performance from the charity stripe likely would have given Cal the win.
Moser’s absence will mean more responsibility for Bennett, senior guard Justin Hawkins and freshman forward Savon Goodman, and that will remain the case when Pitt transfer Khem Birch becomes eligible at the end of the semester.
Bennett’s physical tools make him a tough match-up for any opponent and that will help with Moser out of the lineup, but a team regardless of its talent doesn’t simply replace a player the caliber of Moser.
UNLV has four games to play before they visit No. 20 North Carolina on December 29, which will give head coach Dave Rice the opportunity to tinker with his rotation with Moser sidelined.