Sunday, Dec. 11, 2011 | 2 a.m.
- Rebels fail to seize opportunity in Wisconsin loss (Dec. 10, 2011)
- Blog: UNLV falls to Wisconsin 62-51 (Dec. 10, 2011)
- Rebels can't let Wisconsin guard set the pace (12-09-2011)
- UNLV featured in this week's issue of Sports Illustrated (12-08-2011)
- 2011-12 UNLV Men's Basketball Schedule
- All UNLV Men's Basketball Coverage
UNLV basketball coach Dave Rice needs patience.
Yes, two double-digit losses in one week is a concern. And sure, the lack of energy displayed in those defeats points to possible issues of motivation and preparedness that could have fans worried.
But there are plenty of practical, if not predictable, reasons for the letdown, too.
For starters, the Rebels haven’t played at home since Nov. 22. By the time they tip off against UTEP on Wednesday, it will have been more than three weeks since they played at the Thomas & Mack Center.
That span covers six games — three at Orleans Arena — in which the Rebels went 4-2. It’s understandable that they would fade down the stretch.
“I told the team afterward, ‘I believe that during this six-game stretch away from our building that we’ve improved,’ ” Rice said. “ ‘At times today it didn’t feel like that, but we will be a lot better for having gone through this experience.’ ”
“There’s not a lot of teams that have to go through the experience of six games away from their building. It will toughen us up.”
Not only were both losses on the road, but they were against matchup nightmares for the Rebels. Both Wichita State and Wisconsin play a slow-tempo, grind-it-out game that is the kryptonite of the running style that Rice is trying to implement.
Plus, it took career games from a couple of unlikely guards to defeat UNLV.
Take this stat: Wisconsin attempted 26 3-pointers. Without Ben Brust, the Badgers shot just 3-of-19 behind the arc.
“It took a player getting hot for us to be on the left-hand side,” Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. “That’s a good team. Hell, that team is not ranked. I’m very surprised.”
And on the personnel level, the Rebels’ best player in the early season, forward Mike Moser, is playing with an injured shooting hand. Most teams don’t charge through a schedule like this with their best player in pain and come out unbeaten.
So there’s the positive spin.
The other side of the argument is probably the more popular one among people who saw the North Carolina victory and don’t understand what has happened since then.
All of the above reasons for the losses could be flipped around as excuses. And there’s evidence to support that.
It’s unlikely that two random guards just happened to shoot the lights out against the same defense in the span of a week. Despite a few days of talking about how much better prepared the Rebels were to guard three-point shooters, the same holes appeared in UNLV’s defense.
“I didn’t feel like we were all on the same page defensively in the beginning,” senior Chace Stanback said about the Wisconsin game. “We weren’t talking as much as we should have, weren’t helping the helper on defense, rotating to the open guy. There’s a lot of things we could have done better.”
Add that to the pile of missed layups, poor rebounding and questionable effort, and it would be easy to write this team off.
But that’s shortsighted.
This is a rut, not a collapse.
Bad matchups, long road trips, injuries, off nights; this week does not a season make.
This team is talented and it has a lot of pieces. Next week it adds another one when Marquette transfer guard Reggie Smith becomes eligible.
This week has brought a lot of doubt to UNLV’s season. Even in the locker room there are questions about how to get back on track.
“I don’t know, but we better figure it out,” Moser said. “I’m not sure what we’re going to do.”
Rice does, although you may not like the sound of it.
“The only way to solve those kinds of problems is go back and practice, just get tougher, watch film and get better,” Rice said. “We’re still in a good position.”
In other words, be patient.