Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013 | 3 p.m.
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- All UNLV men's basketball coverage
It settled in about midway through the second half Wednesday night that UNLV not only could but most likely would lose this game at Fresno State.
It was a strange feeling because for all of UNLV's issues, some of which I’ll discuss here, I didn’t see this 64-55 setback coming. Other than its league-opening three-point loss to San Diego State and a victory against Wyoming, Fresno really didn’t have much of a chance in its five other league games. The Bulldogs lost by 27 at New Mexico and didn’t finish within two possessions of anyone else.
So for a team like that to shoot 38.8 percent from the floor, score fewer than a point per possession (0.98) and still win going away against the Rebels, who had a lot to play for, yeah, that surprised me.
Someone asked me on Twitter where this ranked among worst losses and I honestly don’t think I’ve been around long enough to quantify it. But I can say with confidence that the only game that rivals it in my nearly two years covering this team is the NCAA Tournament loss to Colorado, where UNLV essentially didn’t show up until it was too late.
I thought this quote from Fresno State coach Rodney Terry after the game was interesting.
“They won this game two days ago,” Terry said. “I thought the last two days of practice were the best we had all year.”
There was a similar feeling about UNLV’s workouts the previous two days, but clearly they didn’t have the same effect. Whatever the Rebels change going forward, I think it has to start with practice.
The Rebels work on a lot of transition offense in practices. Problem is, they can’t get out and run in conference play. They scored four fast-break points against Fresno and none against Boise. Opponents send guys back to stop those exact plays, conceding a few rebounds for the opportunity to force UNLV to beat them with half-court sets.
Those are the type of plays the Rebels need to be running over and over, because even if you agree with coach Dave Rice that the Rebels couldn’t make open shots against the Bulldogs, and I kind of do, this isn’t a new problem.
Besides Anthony Marshall, UNLV was 1-for-15 on 3-point attempts against the Bulldogs. That includes 0-for-3 from Justin Hawkins, who’s 3-for-23 in his last five games. It includes 0-for-5 from Katin Reinhardt, who hasn’t shot above 50 percent in a game since Dec. 22, and 1-for-4 from Bryce Dejean-Jones, who hasn’t accomplished that feat since Dec. 9.
All those missed shots plus UNLV’s last-place turnover margin — in league games, the Rebels’ margin is -3.57, a full three turnovers per game behind eighth place — lead to so many empty possessions that it’s hard for UNLV to mount a comeback when it’s necessary.
Unless they can start to dictate the pace against opponents, which isn’t in their control as much as they’d like, UNLV is going to have to adapt and fix its most glaring offensive weaknesses.
Fresno was missing pieces
Overlooked in the loss is the fact Fresno State pulled off the upset without two of its reserves. Freshman Robert Upshaw, the conference’s overall leader in blocks, was serving the first of a three-game suspension for “violating an undisclosed athletic department policy,” according to the Fresno Bee, which also reported that senior backup guard Garrett Johnson (2.3 points per game) missed the game because of a conflict with class.
I’m all for student-athletes emphasizing class, but I’ve never heard of a player missing a home game for that reason. Accommodations can almost always be made, unless Johnson didn’t even think the Bulldogs had enough of a chance to make it worthwhile.
The game also was the debut for freshman Braeden Anderson, a transfer from Kansas who was ineligible for the first 20 games. He had two rebounds in 12 minutes.
And while Boise State had gotten Jeff Elorriaga (concussion) and Derrick Marks (flu) back from the previous game for its victory against UNLV, the Broncos were still missing a starter in Igor Hadziomerovic (foot). So the Broncos and Bulldogs both pulled off upsets with missing pieces against the Rebels, who started both games with everyone available.