Sunday, Dec. 13, 2009 | 2:30 a.m.
Ryan Greene and Christine Killimayer delve into what was No. 18 UNLV's 95-80 loss to Kansas State on Saturday at the Orleans Arena. The Wildcats shot the lights out, while the Rebels had a hard time doing much of anything in their first loss of the 2009-10 season. Plus, a look ahead at a week which favors a UNLV team with wounds to lick.
UNLV had flirted with first half fire enough in its 7-0 start to the season, and Saturday at the Orleans Arena, the No. 18 Rebels finally got the second-half burn.
Lon Kruger's club had made a habit — in its previous two games, specifically — of falling behind early with sloppy first-half play, but always scraped enough together after the intermission to come away on top.
Kansas State wasn't so forgiving.
In a game which many thought would be a seesaw, tightly contested defensive grinder, the Wildcats easily had their way, running away with a 95-80 win.
"We've got to realize we can't keep playing mediocre basketball in the first half and expect to keep winning games," said junior guard Tre'Von Willis, who led UNLV (7-1) with 17 points. "When a team's on fire like that, it's hard to come back."
To say K-State (9-1) was simply hot doesn't even come close to telling the whole story. On the offensive end, the Wildcats found consistency they probably never knew they had.
Outside of its 18 turnovers, Frank Martin's club made its possessions count.
The Wildcats entered Saturday shooting just 33.5 percent from 3-point range and 62.6 percent at the free-throw line.
Both numbers took a significant jump against the Rebels, as the Wildcats hit 14 of their 23 attempts from beyond the arc, then twisted the knife by going 25-of-32 at the stripe in a game where the referees had tight whistles.
"Open looks, high-percentage shots," UNLV guard Oscar Bellfield said. "It was really on us, just really digging down deep and really playing defense and letting our man get open looks. That's something we have to work on."
No one took better advantage of the Rebels' flustered appearance early than junior guard Jacob Pullen. He scored a game-high 28 points, including an eye-popping 7-of-10 performance from 3-point range.
Signs of what was to come came right off the bat. After UNLV missed four shots on its opening possession, Pullen casually stroked a three on K-State's first trip down the floor with the ball.
As the Wildcats consistently pecked away at the Rebels' defense, UNLV was suffocated and thrown for a loop whenever it tried to respond.
The Rebels pulled 6-foot-8 sophomore Chace Stanback from the starting lineup in favor of freshman guard Anthony Marshall. The Rebels also tried to penetrate against K-State's sizable front line and kick out for open perimeter looks. As the game progressed, those looks became tougher to come by.
"Kansas State dictated a lot more than we did, and our disappointment probably comes from the fact that we weren't able to change that," Kruger said. "They obviously shot the ball extremely well. That's a combination of us not guarding as well as we need to. I thought they played great. I thought they were sharp."
The game took an downhill twist for the Rebels just before the half.
UNLV had done just enough to hang around throughout the opening period and were trailing, 40-34, while holding for one last shot before the break. Instead, a Justin Hawkins turnover turned into a layup for Pullen, pushing the Cats ahead by eight at the intermission.
With UNLV still only trailing by nine, 54-45, early in the second half, K-State delivered the ultimate blow with a 13-0 run. That spurt included threes from both Pullen and Denis Clemente, plus an old-fashioned 3-point play from junior forward Curtis Kelly, who played an inspired brand of ball against the program which also recruited him hard in the summer of 2008 when he was transferring from UConn.
"We turned it over three or four times in the second half when they made their run, and they converted those into transition points," Kruger said. "That contributed a lot."
The final stats showed just how much K-State's size and physical presence wound up affecting UNLV.
Saturday marked the first time this season that the Rebels recorded more turnovers (16) than assists (14). Also, K-State's 95 points were the most a UNLV team has allowed in a single game under Kruger.
Among other statistical oddities, junior guard Derrick Jasper was held scoreless for the first time as a Rebel, and K-State's 57.1 field goal percentage made it the first UNLV opponent this season to connect on more than 40 percent of its shots.
"We didn't play well as a team today, you could sense it," Willis said. "Countless mental breakdowns we had on both ends of the floor. Transition defense, blocking out, every facet of the game, the Rebels got outplayed. We thought we got some hustle points, but everything else, they won tonight."
After a week of buildup with no games to play heading into the K-State contest, UNLV gets a chance to rebound from its first loss of the 2009-10 campaign in opposite fashion.
A trip to face Southern Utah on Tuesday is the first of three games the Rebels will play this week. That stretch also includes a Thursday home date with Weber State, then a Saturday matinee against South Carolina Upstate. The busy week is followed by a trip to Honolulu for a three-game stint at the Diamond Head Classic.
"It's definitely a learning experience," Bellfield said. "It's probably something that we need to get. We got it, so we've got to just face it and get ready for our next opponent."