Rebels basketball:

Bad start leaves too much ground for UNLV to make up in loss at UNC

The Rebels actually outrebounded the Tar Heels but missed free throws, and a big deficit hurt UNLV in 79-73 defeat

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV guard Katin Reinhardt reacts during the final seconds of the Rebels’ 79-73 loss to North Carolina on Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012, at the Dean Smith Center in Chapel Hill, N.C.

UNLV vs. North Carolina in Chapel Hill

UNLV guard Anthony Marshall grimaces while coming off the court during the final seconds of their 79-73 loss to North Carolina Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012 at the Dean Smith Center in Chapel Hill, N.C. Launch slideshow »

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — The trouble started immediately. Although it was North Carolina missing a starter and No. 20 UNLV getting one back, the Tar Heels were the ones who looked like they knew what they were doing.

Not "played like a top-10 team" or even "played great." They just looked like they knew what they wanted to run on offense and how to guard their opponent, which is more than the Rebels (11-2) could say in the first 10 minutes and most of the first half.

There also were problems down the stretch — namely missed free throws, including two front ends on one-and-ones — but it was that start that was most disconcerting in UNLV’s 79-73 loss to UNC (10-3) at the Dean Smith Center on Saturday.

The poor start is a familiar refrain for this team, and the most troubling part is no one has concrete answers. With 20,888 people filling this arena, it’s a tough place to play. But it’s not like that could have completely surprised UNLV.

Rebels senior Anthony Marshall, who was one of three Rebels to score 15 points and dished out eight assists with one turnover, said before the game that road trips and close wins at Portland, at Cal and at UTEP prepared the team for this game. Afterward, he said this loss would prepare the Rebels for road trips to New Mexico, San Diego State and Colorado State, which are three of UNLV’s first four conference games.

Those environments will be more hostile than anything the Rebels have seen this year, so it’s important for them to learn from the loss to make steps forward. But what exactly went wrong?

Marshall said the Rebels’ youth and hesitancy were problems.

“We have a real young team, so guys came out back on their heels and didn’t really know what to expect,” Marshall said.

One of those young players, freshman Anthony Bennett disagreed.

“Everybody went out there and did what he had to do,” said Bennett, who had 15 points and 13 rebounds. “No one was scared; no one was playing back on their heels. I don’t know what happened.”

Something that they and UNLV coach Dave Rice agreed on was that things changed when the Rebels started attacking the basket.

“Once we did that, we settled down and did a much better job,” Rice said.

Lucky to be trailing by only nine at halftime after shooting 38 percent from the field and committing 11 turnovers, UNLV changed the momentum and took its only lead of the game, 49-48, on a 3-pointer from Katin Reinhardt with 14:02 remaining.

Reinhardt was the third Rebel to score 15, and both he and sophomore Bryce Dejean-Jones, who finished with 14 points, looked better as the game progressed. They started a combined 3-for-10 and finished 10-for-21.

North Carolina, which played without second-leading scorer Reggie Bullock (mild concussion), took the lead back on the next possession. The margin bounced from one to three a few times until UNC went on a 5-0 run and kept UNLV at arm’s length most of the rest of the way.

The Tar Heels could have made the finish much easier on themselves, and the Rebels could have pulled back into it. A big reason neither of those things happened was missed free throws. In the final six minutes, UNLV was 5-for-10 at the free-throw line, including senior Justin Hawkins and Dejean-Jones both missing the front ends of one-and-one opportunities.

During that same stretch, UNC was 7-for-13 at the line, a mark that was good enough to win but by no means good. Like Rice, Tar Heels coach Roy Williams has a lot of young faces searching for consistency, and he was just happy to come out on the right side.

“I’d like to think (we) grew up 100 times, but who knows?” Williams said. “They’re 17-, 18-, 19-year-old kids. Who knows what they’re going to do tomorrow? We’ve been practicing in 47 practices and 14 games, and that’s the first time we’ve been able to feel really good about what we did. That’s the nice part about it.”

This was the first big nonconference victory for a team that previously lost to Butler, Indiana and Texas. It’s a win the Tar Heels hope to build on as they begin play in the ACC.

Similarly, UNLV wants to learn something from this loss and grow as a team. Part of that may simply be personnel. This was the first game the Rebels played with a full complement of players, as junior forward Mike Moser returned less than three weeks after suffering a dislocated elbow at Cal. Though he said he wasn’t limited, Moser looked rusty and fouled out in 12 minutes with three points while playing spot minutes for Bennett and Khem Birch.

Other than getting the guys Rice wants on the court and fine-tuning the rotation, though, what does UNLV learn from this loss, particularly the bad start? That the Rebels need to play better on the road? They knew that when they stepped off the plane.

The fact that that knowledge didn’t translate to any execution at the start or any answers after the end is the moral of the story. UNLV deserves a lot of credit for turning the game around, outplaying UNC for parts of the second half and giving itself a chance to win. No nonconference opponent has won at the Dean Smith Center since 2005, so there’s plenty of company.

That said, UNLV’s concern is itself, not North Carolina. The Rebels got what was probably the Tar Heels’ best game of the season, just like they can expect from most Mountain West opponents. Their challenge is to match that effort, something that has to start at the same time as the game.

Taylor Bern can be reached at 948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Taylor on Twitter at twitter.com/taylorbern.

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  1. If they think that environment was tough the "Pit" will be no easier.

  2. One whole week of practice and all they can come up with is one bad half in the biggest game of the season. Very disapppointing.

  3. The length and athleticism of UNC's defense really bothered UNLV in the half-court. That said, if the Rebels make their free throws and their layups it's another win in a place that's pretty tough to play. If this loss was in March then it would be disappointing, but as it's in December I think it will be a good learning experience and another building block towards bigger things.

  4. Extremely disappointed....doesn't look like we've improved at all from last year. We need to win games against big programs....at home AND on the road to be considered a top program. Rice did not have this team prepared for this game. It was a tale of 2 halves....just like last year. Why can't he and the assistant coaches get the team ready to play a FULL GAME of basketball?

  5. I believe Bennett would do much better with another
    year in college. I know he will probably be one and
    done, but he still needs alot of work on defense and how to use his body against bigger players.

  6. This team is way over rated. All these 4 and 5 star recruits and they play like that. Agree about Bennett- he really needs to work on some things and if he stays one more year he could be the top pick in the 2014 draft. As it is, he will leave and still be a top 15 pick. At least Moser SHOULD be staying...

  7. Troubling thing to me is all the intangibles. This team is no doubt talented but they lack the mental toughness to battle and win consistently. Teams with lots of experience like SDSU, New Mexico, and CSU are going to give UNLV fits because the Rebels have so many mental and fundamental breakdowns. They play aggressive defense and then somebody doesnt show on a screen. They force a bad shot and then give up a putback. They get a steal then take a contested three. Draw a foul then miss the front end of a one and one. They play pressure defense then reach in and foul etc etc etc. They just do not make enough winning plays. I absolutely love the talent Coach has brought in but until I see a consistent commitment to make the simple play I cannot not trust this team. Every game makes me nervous.

  8. @ gumby--very well-put.

  9. Inexperience on the WINGS dooms even good teams. One play sums it up: Reinhardt taking that right wing jumper with mucho time on the shot clock and NO ONE in rebounding position. Until the GUARDS quit taking these totally unneccesary shots, look for UNLV to struggle and mostly LOSE on the road to Los Lobos, Diego St, Colorado St, Boise St, & yes, The Wyoming Cowboys who take care of the ball and TAKE good shots! Its time for Rice to send a message that these type shots wont be tolerated and quite frankly, he has allowed it to go on WAY TOO LONG already.

  10. Once again, I'd like to remind everybody that Dave Rice is on ESPN Radio 98.9 FM/1100 AM at 12 pm on Wednesday January 2. All you have to do is call 1-877-390-1648. Or, you can tweet your question to @UNLVonTheRadio.

  11. @philips - Like the Radio station is going to allow us to call in and blast Rice....please. They're homers just like the rest of the people around town and won't allow anybody to challenge Rice with legit questions. Why doesn't he just do his job and get the team ready to play?!

  12. One game, young team, long season, go Rebels.

  13. @Sinatra711 - You won't call Dave Rice because you're a big baby.

  14. @Sinatra711: we have disagreed and agreed but had civil discussions on these boards, and in saying that; you might be right that the radio station might not let you rant on-air, but if you couched a legitimate question with legitimate concerns/criticisms in a manner which is respectful and thoughtful, the station might let you on-air. And it seems to me, if you were engaging and not confrontational and vitriolic, you might elicit an elucidating answer, or then again maybe not. Although, one thing I have noticed is that Rice isn't shy about giving a long winded answer when given the time to do so. Ask nuts and bolts questions, process questions, offensive and defensive philosophy questions and how he believes the team does or doesn't meet those aspects of play. But one thing is certain: if you don't make an attempt at the dialog, you absolutely wont get on-air.

  15. @James_P_Reza, great analysis, honest and succinct. Saturday's game wasn't the big test every one made it out to be. There is a lot of basketball to be played and these kids will get better as the season goes on.

  16. Clearly a disappointing loss, but UNC is a tourney team. They're fine. Go Rebels.

  17. @philips/@john-doe - since you've called me out, I will follow through and call in on Wed. Will attempt to ask a couple very simple questions and see what Rice has to say about it:

    "Everyone says 'We have a young team', however in today's NCAA EVERY SCHOOL has a 'young team'....why do we struggle with inconsistency on the road & big games? To me it's on the coaches to get the players ready to play the full game, not just 1 half. Our record last year was the same as the year before that and this year is already a disappointment with no big signature wins but with a supposedly 'more talented' team. What will you do to change this result Mr Rice since what you're doing doesn't seem to be working?"

  18. @Sinatra711: I wasn't trying to call you out. You have valid criticisms that if you are allowed to ask of coach Rice, you might (I stress might because you could be right that they won't let ask anything probing) get the opportunity to have some of them explained (and that doesn't mean you would agree with those explanations). That is all I was trying to convey. peace out