UNLV basketball:

Rebels searching for better mentality heading into road game at Fresno State

UNLV had its most spirited practice of the season following a 77-72 loss at Boise State, which dropped the Rebels two games out of first place

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV head coach Dave Rice yells to his players during their game against Wyoming Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013 at the Thomas & Mack Center. UNLV won 62-50.

FRESNO, Calif. — The feeling from Saturday night, when UNLV got outplayed by Boise State in a 77-72 road loss, still permeated throughout Monday’s practice at the Thomas & Mack Center. The difference was the reaction to that feeling had changed from the disbelief and despondence of a losing locker room to the anger and urgency of a team that knows the end is a game closer and it's a game further back than it should be.

“I did a lot of thinking, as everyone did after Saturday night, and felt like 22 games into the season our mindset is not where it needs to be,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said.

So Rice and the coaching staff set out to change that, getting into and challenging the players in a way rarely seen this season. No one was exempt, including the scout team, which answered with one of its best practices of the season.

“After a disappointing loss like that, everyone’s trying to focus on being more physical, more disciplined,” said sophomore Barry Cheaney, who was playing the role of Fresno State leading scorer Tyler Johnson (11.9 points per game).

The Rebels (17-5, 4-3) are back on the road Wednesday to play the Bulldogs (7-13, 1-6) at 6 p.m. on Time Warner Cable SportsNet. Struggling in its first year in the Mountain West, Fresno State presents the opportunity for the most winnable of road games in this league. Winnable, that is, if you don’t play like you notched the victory just by making it to the Save Mart Center on time.

“The five guys who start on Wednesday are going to be in a (defensive) stance and are going to bring a sense of urgency that we did not bring to start the Boise State game,” Rice said. “It’s a frustrating deal, because with so much to play for, we didn’t do that.”

Saturday’s home game against New Mexico, which is nearly sold out, could have been for first place. Now that’s unlikely with the Rebels two games back of the Lobos and one behind both Colorado State and Air Force.

And just who those first five on the floor will be Wednesday for UNLV is a bit of a mystery. Shaking up the starting lineup is a common coaching tactic in these situations and that’s what Rice seems to be contemplating. Anthony Bennett and Anthony Marshall, who combined for 43 points against the Broncos, will likely be there. The rest will be determined by what Rice takes away from that Monday practice and Tuesday night’s workout in Fresno.

Cheaney’s not likely to get the call up to the starting lineup but he could play a role in determining who gets the more playing time. The best feeling a scout team player can have in practice, one that Rice is familiar with from his days playing for Jerry Tarkanian, is to make the coaches angry with the first team. And there was plenty of yelling Monday as the coaches tried to break the mentality Rice said he wasn’t happy with.

“We start making shots and coaches are going to get on them because it’s the players’ job to stop us,” Cheaney said.

Time hasn’t run out on the Rebels, but it is running out. That was a key in Rice’s message to his team, talking about valuing the games that are left. Because not only is the end of the regular season about five weeks away, UNLV also doesn’t have the hindrances it did previously this season. That’s what made the Boise loss sting a little more.

“Early in the year we can explain some of the reasons, whether it’s the third game of the year, whether it’s Khem (Birch) is not eligible, whether it’s Mike (Moser) hurt his elbow,” Rice said, “but we’ve been at full strength now for a few weeks.”

Desperation is a buzzword around the program right now. Rice wants the Rebels to play defense like a desperate team all the time, which they clearly didn’t Wednesday.

The mood has changed in the past few days, as it should when opportunity slips away. The challenge is to capture the right kind of new mindset and hold on to it so that practices like Monday are born out of desire rather than necessity.

Taylor Bern can be reached at 948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Taylor on Twitter at twitter.com/taylorbern.

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  1. Glad to hear that coach Rice is finally challenging these guys to play up to the level that their raw talent suggests they can play. At the same time, we've heard this kind of talk before. Let's just hope this time it actually translates onto the court--tonight and for the rest of this season. If we play smart, focus on defense, and give 100% on every play, this team still has the potential to have a great season.

    Tonight needs to be a statement game for us. Yes, every game on the road in this league is tough. But Fresno State stinks, and we have the talent to be great, so getting off to a strong start, building a comfortable lead, and showing we can maintain that lead should give our top guys (esp. Marshall) a chance to play fewer minutes and our bench to get some more court time, which hopefully will bode well for Saturday's showdown with the Lobos. Go Rebels!

  2. A team's character shows with road wins, not wins at home with 18,000 of your own fans in the arena. When this team can consistently beat teams they are better than on the road I'll start to pay more attention.

  3. Take Fresno and the 8 points...

  4. What people seem to forget, is that this team has been in every game this year. While a loss is a tough thing to take, a bad loss like the Boise State fiasco, can sometimes re-focus a team. I seem to recall the 1990 team going into UCSB and getting their collective hind ends handed to them. Lo and behold, that team went on to take it all. I'm not saying this team is capable of making a run like that, but it does have the talent to go far, if it can take it's intensity to a higher level. Bottom line, it's got to be more than just the Bennett/Marshall show.

  5. I saw the line at Rebels -12.Id take Fresno.

  6. The game is scheduled to be on Direct TV channel 691 at 6:00pm.

  7. This is certainly not the first time we have heard this. This coaching staff and players always say the right things and then go out and do the same things. Until this team shows me game in and game out that they are going to perform at a high and intense level for 40 minutes I will continue to be skeptical. We are still the deepest and most talented team in this conference and there is not really a close second. But you cannot just talk your way to playing the game like the true Runnin Rebels. I will like eveyone else be hoping that we see the kind of intensity and focus that this teams needs to be successful. But I am going to wait to see it before I believe it.

  8. Lets go Rebs kick some a___! Lets get on a roll don't worry about point spread play your game!

  9. They need to search for a better coach.

  10. About time they start playing a little pissed off. The rebs have dropped some close games and just didn't finish when other teams really wanted it more. I hope they want every game after this and play like they should be able to with the front court they have.

  11. @antigov - This isn't Bobby Hauck and the football program. This is Runnin' Rebel basketball and Dave Rice.

    Most people on here expect the team to be 22-0 at this point. That's simply not realistic. The team is heading in the right direction, and it takes longer than two years to build something special.

    I expect the Rebels to win by around 10 points.

  12. I expect the Rebels to win by 10.Phillips he just keeps hoping that Coach Rice will go to OZ and get a Basketball IQ. With 6 minutes left the Rebels are down by 15 to FRESNO ST. , c'mon really? . Oh but don't worry the team is headed in the right direction, yeah right , down the toilet is where they are headed. I am disgusted that they signed Rice to a 5 yr contract, hmmm can you say Massimino?. The AD at UNLV should be fired fired fired and Rice can ride his coat tails on the way out the door. How embarrasing does it have to get before they get rid of those two.

  13. Yeaaaaah Phillips you sure called that one.

  14. Hey antigov,, they had a better coach lined up but livingood hired his unqualified friend instead. oh oh with a minute and a half left they start a press, lol lmaorotf, oh oh my stomach , what a joke.

  15. Hmmmm looks like Fresno by 10 not the Rebels, Phillips must be dyslexic Hmmmmmm?

  16. http://scores.espn.go.com/ncb/boxscore?g...

    @fedup2here (Kenny Rogers) - Should Bill Self be fired?