Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013 | 1:45 p.m.
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The one reaction to the outcome of UNLV’s 65-60 loss at New Mexico Wednesday I don’t understand is surprise.
Anger, I get. And disappointment is understandable, because the game was winnable. But surprise makes no sense because of this team’s well-documented road struggles the past year and a half, plus the fact this was the first road conference game and first game at altitude for a few UNLV players.
What was it about the games at Portland, at UTEP or at Cal that made anyone confident the Rebels would suddenly go to a place like The Pit and make the necessary plays to win? Life on the road is going to be difficult in the Mountain West, and this only confirmed that.
It was more glaring against New Mexico because a couple of the inbounds passes were deflected by defenders, but UNLV hasn’t seemed to have much success on inbounds plays in the Rice era.
I remember this being an issue last year, and it stems from the appearance that the Rebels don’t run many plays in these situations. The most common inbounds set appears to be Anthony Marshall, who’s most often the inbounder, looking for a guard directly in front of him who has sealed off his man, with the backup plan of tossing it out past the three-point line to a big. In both cases, Marshall, or whoever is playing point, takes a hand-off from the player who caught the inbounds pass and sets up the offense at the top.
There appear to be few screens or moves toward the basket. Without numbers to back it up, I’m not comfortable in drawing any conclusions based only on what I’ve seen, so I’m going to go in search of some data. Wish me luck.
During the second half, when Anthony Bennett was on the bench with four fouls, Quintrell Thomas and Carlos Lopez-Sosa spent a decent amount of time on the floor together. This is a situation that didn’t seem like it would occur very often after Khem Birch became available.
Unlike Bennett, Birch wasn’t in foul trouble during that time, so it was, at least in part, Rice’s choice to go with the more experienced players during a key stretch in the game. Once Mike Moser gets closer to full strength — he played 14 minutes, shot 1-for-6 and is “obviously still not 100 percent,” Rice said — it seems even less likely that Thomas and Lopez-Sosa will play big minutes together, because Moser can play the 4.
Lopez-Sosa joined Thomas on the court with 11:45 left and the game tied. UNLV went up four with help from a Lopez-Sosa dunk and a Thomas block, and then they exited with 7:39 remaining and the Rebels down one. I don’t think you can say anything definitive about either player or their role moving forward from that stretch, but I find it interesting they were out there together.
Obviously Rice’s hands were tied by Bennett’s four fouls, but he had some other options, including Birch, and it says something that he went with that pairing. Now, there could be something else at work here — this was Birch’s first game at altitude, after all — but on the surface it looked like a strong vote of confidence for the reserve big men.
Let’s get technical
I wrote last week I was surprised Bennett not only had avoided foul trouble thus far — before Wednesday he was never called for more than three in a single game — but also that he hadn’t been whistled for a technical after one of his dunks.
My point wasn’t that I thought those should be technicals, just that you see it called so often I was surprised it hadn’t happened. Alex Kirk’s technical after a dunk in the first half, a play that only seemed to help Kirk, appeared to be for the same type of thing Bennett does almost every game.
After scoring, Kirk stared down Bennett and presumably said something to him. Let me be clear on this: Bennett does the same thing all the time.
Now, I don’t know what words were said, so certainly Kirk may have crossed a line his opponent has not. But the case for “this was different” that I mostly heard from people was that Bennett yells at the crowd, not a specific person. And, yes, he does that, too, but he also gets in people’s faces and says what he wants.
I see, and occasionally can hear, it often. Without knowing what Kirk may have said, that looked like the exact thing Bennett has done to several opponents this year.
When faced with a multiple-choice question, I often ask myself, “Which answer would upset you most if it was correct and you didn’t choose it?” What I mean by that is from UNLV’s perspective, even though I know how well he was defended most of the game, I would rather go down with the ball in Bennett’s hands than try to win without him touching it.