Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013 | 4:45 p.m.
- UNLV coach expects his program to ‘grow up’ after no-show at Air Force
- Control without sacrificing aggression the goal for UNLV’s Dejean-Jones
- UNLV Extras: Can Rebels learn from victory against New Mexico?
- Four-star forward wowed by weekend trip to UNLV
- Motivated Rebels snap skid by controlling New Mexico in the Mack
- Instant Analysis: Rebels begin fixing what was broken in 9-point win against New Mexico
- Take 5: Resetting the storylines halfway through Mountain West play
- UNLV Extras: Assessing the damage after the Rebels drop to 4-4 in league play
- All UNLV men's basketball coverage
At this point, it seems like just about everything has to go right for UNLV (18-7, 5-5) to win a game on the road in the Mountain West.
In the San Diego State game, the Rebels’ only road league win this year, they came out ready to play, answered every Aztec run and outplayed their rivals. Conversely, UNLV hasn’t shown the ability to play less than its best (or at least in the 90-percent range of its best) and still win.
For example, the Rebels played poorly at Fresno State, trailed by 16 and lost by nine. Wednesday night, New Mexico played poorly at Fresno State, trailed by 11 at halftime and won by six. The Lobos’ and Rebels’ offensive numbers were very similar in both of those games, lending credence to the idea UNLV coach Dave Rice often repeats: Playing consistent defense is the best way to win on the road.
The Rebels haven’t done that in any of the last three games, including Wednesday's 71-56 loss at Air Force, leading to three defeats.
Coaches or players: who’s more at fault for a game like Air Force?
I posed this question on Twitter late Wednesday after first posting some quotes from Rice and senior guard Anthony Marshall. Those remarks were shortened versions of these:
Rice: “It’s time for our program to grow up and accept the fact that we’re going to play Runnin’ Rebel basketball. We’re going to build a program with those who choose to be part of it, and those who don’t, we’ll wish them well and we’ll move on.”
Marshall: “The coaching staff did a great job with the scouting report; we knew everything they were going to do. But as you see they still got us with it.”
I don’t think assigning blame really solves much but I consider it an interesting thought exercise from fans on the weight of responsibility between coaches and players. Everyone said the Rebels knew what the Falcons were going to do, and having seen practice I can attest to some of that.
Air Force’s offense — predominately cuts and flares to the basket plus Michael Lyons one-on-one — is so well known it’s impossible to think the Rebels didn’t know what was coming. Yet they got beat on multiple backdoor cuts early in the game, the same thing that happened at Boise State.
That would seem to be a player issue, but UNLV’s road woes have been a problem so long that you can make a convincing argument the onus is on the coaches to fix things. Not just scout the upcoming opponent but diagnose and fix the issues causing UNLV to constantly come out flat and do things like allow its offensive struggles to negatively affect its defense.
Honestly the best, and most boring, answer is both groups share blame. It is, after all, a team game.
Is UNLV’s road record really as bad as it seems?
In nearly two full seasons under Rice the Rebels are 3-10 on the road in Mountain West play, including 1-5 so far this year.
Two-year road MW records*
- New Mexico 7-5
- San Diego St. 6-6
- Colorado St. 3-8
- Wyoming 3-9
- Air Force 3-9
- UNLV 3-10
- Boise Stae 2-10 *as of 2/14
Of the six other teams who have been in the league both last year and this year, New Mexico has the best road record (7-5) while Boise State has the worst (2-10). UNLV has the most losses so far this year but it has also played on more road game than every other team. Fresno State is winless (0-4) while four other teams are currently at 1-4.
There are two ways to take this information. The optimists’ view is that UNLV’s road mark is average, which by definition isn’t that bad. Second-place Colorado State is 3-8 over the same time period — 1-6 under Tim Miles, 2-2 under Larry Eustachy — with four more road games to go this year, including this Wednesday at UNLV.
The pessimists’ view is that average isn’t good enough for a team picked to contend for the title this year and that was in position to do the same last year before losing four consecutive road games.
Your view of just how good or bad that 3-10 mark is depends on just how much better you feel UNLV should perform.
Odds and ends
Rice was more fired up than almost any other time I can remember. Had the Rebels played better and still lost — Air Force was very good, after all — it would have been different. But I got the feeling the embarrassment of throwing away any momentum from the New Mexico victory and trailing by 24 at one point were just more than he could take.
Here are a few of his comments I couldn’t work into the story but felt like sharing:
— On the team in general:
“We’ve got to grow up quickly, and it’s not just our younger guys who need to grow up; it’s our older guys as well.”
— On Anthony Bennett's technical foul for throwing the ball in Michael Lyons’ chest when UNLV trailed by 17:
“Our first priority is always the next game but it’s also building a program that Runnin’ Rebel fans, former players and former coaches can all be proud of. Those kind of plays are not necessary, period.”
Also: “It doesn’t matter what the score is, we’re not going to play like that. That’s not how we’re going to represent our team."
— On the bad start affecting the rest of the game:
“We are incredibly disappointed with that performance; it’s inexcusable. … We prepared well, we knew exactly what they were going to do yet we came out flat, couldn’t make a shot and we allowed that to affect our identity like we’ve done the last number of games on the road.”
One last thing. Junior forward Mike Moser played 14 minutes against Air Force, all without any protection on his right elbow. That doesn't seem to back up Rice's assertion after Monday's practice that Moser's two minutes against New Mexico were related tot he physical play, because if that was still an issue Moser would at least have a padded sleeve on, right?