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Friday, Feb. 22, 2013 | 1:06 p.m.
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UNLV returns to the road Saturday at Wyoming. That statement alone might send shivers down fans’ spines, and it has nothing to do with the opponent. It’s just one word: Road.
The Rebels have lost 10 of 13 road conference games under coach Dave Rice, nine of their last 10 and four in a row. It’s obviously a big concern, one that Rice has been hinting at the past week while UNLV took care of business at home against San Diego State and Colorado State.
“It is a big deal, but I don’t want it to make it to the point that it’s overwhelming our guys,” Rice said. “But the last three games (at Boise State, at Fresno State, at Air Force) have been unacceptable.”
After the Wyoming game, UNLV has a week off before going north to face UNR in its last true road game of the 2012-13 season. There are a lot of reasons the Rebels, like most teams, struggle away from home, so with six Mountain West games played both at home and the road, we’re looking at the numbers breakdown to see what factors may be more important than others.
What’s the most important thing the Rebels need to do on the road?
“It still has to be defense, because defense is about energy,” Rice said. “But our shot selection on the road is a close second.”
Here are the figures:
Loc. W-L 2FG% 3FG% FT% FTA Ast TO PPG
Away 1-5 50.2 29.7 67.1 12.6 14.3 14 64.3
Home 6-0 47.3 32 68.3 21 17.2 14.3 66.8
Loc. 2FG% 3FG% FT% FTA RMarg. TO PPG
Away 47.1 33.3 70.5 22 +2 11.3 69.7
Home 44 26.7 68.1 15.2 +55 11.5 59.8
The numbers seem to back up Rice, whose team allows nearly 10 points less per game at home than on the road. They also rebound demonstrably better and get to the free-throw line about nine more times per game at home than on the road.
Offensively, the numbers are very similar. The Rebels shoot a little better inside on the road and a little better outside at home.
Here are a few other observations from the numbers:
• UNLV has more made free throws at home (86) than attempted free throws on the road (76). It’s no secret that it’s easier to get calls at home, and the Rebels happen to be an extreme example of this.
Two weeks ago in his Power Rankings on SI.com, Luke Winn looked at the teams in BCS conferences plus the Mountain West to see who had the greatest home-court advantage based on free throw attempts per offensive play. UNLV ranked eighth in the country, right behind Colorado State.
At home, UNLV has attempted at least 18 free throws in four games and never attempted less than 15. On the road, the Rebels have never reached the 18-attempts mark, and four of the games were below 15, including that 4-for-5 night at New Mexico.
Of course, the opponents’ numbers are similar in the Mack. Three of the teams were under 15 attempts and none had more than 20.
Part of this certainly must be credited to UNLV playing more aggressively at home, though they actually take more outside shots in the Thomas & Mack Center (see next item).
• One of the most common complaints about shot selection on the road — UNLV attempts too many 3s — doesn’t hold up to the numbers. The Rebels take a greater percentage of their shots at home behind the arc: 38.7 percent compared to 34.2 percent on the road.
And the difference in the percentage of made shots is very marginal. If the Rebels go 6-for-10 behind the line at Wyoming, their numbers would be exactly the same in conference play home or away.
• These numbers have a few surprises, although they essentially confirm what the already know: To win on the road, UNLV has to play better defense to make up for the home team’s better shooting and extra trips to the free throw line.
That effort has to start at the beginning of the game, because the Rebels make things even harder on themselves by falling into deep holes.
“I don’t think there’s anything that’s some magical fix,” Rice said. “It’s very simple; we show up and execute what we’re supposed to do.”