While Quintrell Thomas' late-game heroics helped UNLV sneak by its last opponent, the No. 20 Runnin' Rebels don't figure to be in nearly as tight a battle Thursday night against Division III La Verne at Orleans Arena.
Five days after trailing well into the second half of a 68-60 win at Portland, UNLV (7-1) got a significantly bigger scare Sunday at California. With his team moments away from losing, Thomas grabbed Anthony Marshall's airball and hit a short hook shot with 1.2 seconds left to give the Rebels a 76-75 victory.
"Found a way," said coach Dave Rice, whose team has won five in a row. "Sometimes basketball just comes down to one play. We were fortunate, but at the same time we made our luck and we were in the right spot at the right time."
Thomas has mostly come off the bench but could be headed to the starting lineup for a while. Junior forward Mike Moser, averaging 10.9 points and a team best-tying 8.3 rebounds, dislocated his right elbow during a scramble for a loose ball Sunday.
"It's not good," Rice said. "I would suspect we'll be playing without him for some time."
Thomas, a senior forward, got his first start since his sophomore season in the win at Portland with Moser sidelined by a hip injury. Thomas tied a season high with nine points in that game and could help fill Moser's void on the glass, averaging more rebounds per 40 minutes (13.3) than anyone on the roster.
With Moser expected to miss a significant period of time, UNLV may need star freshman Anthony Bennett to shoulder even more of the scoring load. He's averaging 19.5 points and 8.3 boards, including season highs of 25 and 13 against the Golden Bears.
Getting back to its stifling defensive ways could also help to overcome Moser's absence. UNLV held opponents to 35.5 percent from the field over its first seven games before allowing Cal to shoot 52.8 percent and forcing a season-low 13 turnovers.
"We couldn't get Cal stopped for most of the game," Rice said. "We know we've got to get better. I've said from day one that we're a work in progress. But this was a major step in the right direction, to find a way to win.
"We need game experience and the only way to get game experience is to play games. We'll continue to get better because we've got a group that works extremely hard."
UNLV now turns its attention to La Verne (1-4), which has dropped all eight previous matchups in this series. The schools, however, haven't met since 1965.
While the Rebels won't be on their usual home court Thursday with this game being played at nearby Orleans Arena instead of the Thomas & Mack Center, they still figure to give the Leopards all they can handle.
"This is the time of year where we have to be out of the building for 17 days (for) the National Finals Rodeo," Rice said. "We're excited about the opportunity to play on the back end of final exams and it's another opportunity for us to go out and get some game experience."
La Verne is led by sophomore Jourdan Simmonds, who averages a team-high 16.0 points.
Simmonds was limited to 10 points on 2-of-7 shooting Saturday as the Leopards suffered their fourth straight loss, 58-49 to Pomona-Pitzer.