Sunday, Jan. 11, 2009 | midnight
Ryan Greene and Rob Miech discuss UNLV's first Mountain West loss of the season, as the Rebels fell to TCU on Saturday afternoon in Fort Worth, 80-73. The guys talk about just what went wrong after Lon Kruger went with a smaller lineup to start the game, then stuck with it for much of the afternoon. Plus, a look a bit down the road at just how UNLV can make up for their first league stumble. Also, is TCU for real in the MWC race?
FORT WORTH, Texas -- The final game Jim Christian coached at Kent State was one he was certainly quick to forget.
In the Golden Flashes' 71-58 first-round loss to UNLV in last year's NCAA Tournament, his team tied a modern day tourney record for offensive futility when it scored just 10 first half points.
Ten months later, now coaching TCU, Christian got the better of those Rebels for his biggest win to date with the Horned Frogs, knocking off UNLV at the Daniel-Meyer Coliseum, 80-73.
"That has nothing to do with this team," Christian said afterward, referring to last year's exit from March Madness. "There's a bunch of guys at Kent State that would like to play this game again, but this is a great basketball team we played tonight. UNLV's a great basketball program, Lon Kruger's a Hall of Fame coach in my opinion, and it's just rewarding for this basketball team to find a way to win a conference game.
"There really wasn't much to learn (from last year's loss to UNLV) other than if you don't come to play, they can blow you out. We knew that coming in, we knew they were a great basketball team. I haven't thought about that game since it ended."
Now he has no reason to ever rehash it, as he has a more satisfying result against UNLV to hang his hat on.
The Rebels had a week off between games to get set for the upstart Horned Frogs, but TCU had just three full days to get ready for one of its marquee home games after taking care of Texas Tech, 85-80, on Tuesday night.
What Christian and his staff devised during that stretch threw UNLV for a loop.
"We added sets to take advantage of some of their tendencies," he said. "I felt like, if we had run stuff we've been running, they would have been ready to take us out of it. So we had to put in some new things. We only had two days, but we executed pretty well, in my opinion."
'Pretty well' could be considered the understatement to end all understatements, considering how the Rebels had defended opponents all season leading up to Saturday's trip down to Fort Worth.
UNLV came into its second Mountain West game holding opponents to 40.6 percent shooting, but TCU offered up a nice mixture on the offensive end, hitting 30 of 53 shot attempts (56.6 percent).
They practiced against several of TCU's set plays all week in practice, but Christian & Co. inserted minor tweaks that UNLV was forced to adjust against.
While the Horned Frogs couldn't match the 15 3-pointers that the Rebels hit, only connecting on six deep tries, they crashed the lane hard against a smaller UNLV lineup.
Lon Kruger not only started sophomore guard Tre'Von Willis in place of junior forward Darris Santee, but Willis played 35 minutes while Santee logged just six.
"They went smaller with Joe Darger at the five," Christian said. "It was a harder matchup for us at the end of the floor -- they could drive and shoot it at all five spots. But on the defensive side, I thought it enabled us to get it inside more than when they play a bigger lineup."
The Rebels ran out of fire from the outside after halftime, but TCU continued to chip away by mixing drives to the hoop with open jumpers from the perimeter.
The Horned Frogs outscored the Rebels in the paint, 32-14, and used a 32-23 rebounding advantage to edge UNLV in second-chance points, 12-6.
Starting forwards Zvonko Buljan and Kevin Langford combined for 29 points and 16 rebounds. Langford's first bucket of the game gave him 1,001 points for his career -- a milestone that was honored immediately following the game.
A relatively young TCU team deserved credit, too, for the way it responded to a key UNLV run mid-way through the second half.
The Rebels ripped off eight consecutive points to go up 57-48, but the Horned Frogs came back with a 15-0 jaunt of their own. UNLV would again tie the game, but never regained the lead.
"It was big because this is a team that can get away from you quickly because they're such an explosive offensive team," he said. "You've got to be resilient. We had to get it back one possession at a time."
The Horned Frogs certainly have plenty going for them, though, at the moment. The winners of four in a row, they've scored 80-plus points in their last three outings, a stretch that also includes a win at Texas Tech.
The road to respectability for a program on the rise doesn't get any easier, as TCU now hits the road to face BYU on Tuesday night. For now, however Christian will settle for another win at home, where TCU is 8-1 so far this season.
An 11-5 record highlighted with a victory over conference heavyweight UNLV is nice right now, but Christian knows it won't hang a banner.
But it's a nice start.
"If you're going to try to compete for the (league) title here, you've got to try to win at home," he said. "We won a home game. We beat a fantastic basketball team, but we've got to try to win at home if we want to win a championship."