UNLV basketball:

Rebels’ loss at UNM may be disappointing, but it’s not surprising

Image

Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV guard Anthony Marshall tries to drive to the basket past three New Mexico defenders on UNLV’s last possession Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013 at The Pit in Albuquerque. New Mexico won the game 65-60.

UNLV vs. New Mexico: Jan. 9, 2013

UNLV guard Anthony Marshall knocks the ball out of the hands of New Mexico guard Hugh Greenwood during their game Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013, at The Pit in Albuquerque. Launch slideshow »
Click to enlarge photo

From left, UNLV forwards Quintrell Thomas, Mike Moser and Carlos Lopez-Sosa box out on New Mexico guard Jamal Fenton's free throw attempt during the second half of their game Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013 at The Pit in Albuquerque.

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.

Inbounds plays

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.

Lineup choices

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.

Click to enlarge photo

New Mexico's Alex Kirk has words for UNLV forward Anthony Bennett after a dunk during the first half of their game Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013 at The Pit in Albuquerque. Kirk was whistled for a technical foul for his actions.

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.

Final thought

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.

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

Join the Discussion:

Check this out for a full explanation of our conversion to the LiveFyre commenting system and instructions on how to sign up for an account.

Full comments policy

Previous Discussion: 15 comments so far…

Comments are moderated by Las Vegas Sun editors. Our goal is not to limit the discussion, but rather to elevate it. Comments should be relevant and contain no abusive language. Comments that are off-topic, vulgar, profane or include personal attacks will be removed. Full comments policy.

  1. Please people have quit making excuses for Dave Rice he is not a good head coach period, and the players he has arnt buying what he is selling. Its not UNLV its UNME all about stats and glory, thy all should take a good look at the letters on there uniforms because it meant something to the great teams of the past. Its very sad........

  2. I put most of this blame on Rice. His lineup choices have been questionable all year. His lack of an offense in the half court is still a joke. He seems never to be able to motivate his team on the road in tough environments. He doesn't make adjustments. The choice to put the ball in Reinhardt's hands at the end of the game when Reinhardt was having an off night was a poor decision. Rice just doesn't seem as if he is learning from his past mistakes. I see the same problems this year that plagued the Rebels last year once they got to conference play. I understand Rice is still relatively inexperienced as a head coach but he needs to start make these adjustments and improvements. Maybe he should give coach Tark a call for some advice.

  3. Love the leftovers, thanks Taylor.

    Totally agree that they need to try to get the ball to Bennett in critical situations. Good things happen even when he's well defended.

  4. Low IQ players + selfishness + terrible outside shooters + poor coaching = mediocrity...

  5. If I hadn't watched some of the "oh geez" plays at the end of this game, and had only seen the box score (Rebels losing by 5 at the pit) I would have been happier.

    Stop blaming Rice. He's not this terrible coach people are making him out to be. Rebels have a young team. They have talent, but not last year Kentucky talent. Bennett is a stud, but he's not the uni-brow.

    I knew the second this game was over that the sun comments would be filled with people crying that the sky is falling. It's New Mexico @ the pit. Snap out of it people. Go Rebs!

  6. We're paying for Rice to learn how to be a Head Coach right now....we haven't improved over the 2 yrs he's been at the helm. He finished with the same record as Kruger last year and he's already behind the 8ball this year with our record. I really don't want to hear about how young we are.....I've got news for the homers....ALL COLLEGE BASKETBALL TEAMS ARE YOUNG. Nobody has a squad of seniors and juniors.....nobody. Stop making excuses for Rice.

    We're stuck with him and he ain't going anywhere....so, I'm going to stop asking for him to be fired. However, he should be held accountable for not having our team ready to play on the road and play a full game. It's on the coaches.....sorry.

  7. @Sinatra How many players did Rice recruit that he coached last year? None.

    This is his first year with a mixed bag of players he half recruited. Granted Kruger's recruits were pretty damn good.

    Rice helped recruit... oh yeah, the highest rated freshmen class in UNLV history including the Rebels highest ranked HS recruit ever, Anthony Bennett.

    The Rebels only 2 losses out of conference were Oregon (by 4) who just beat #4 Arizona tonight, and North Carolina on the road (by 6). Keep in mind they also beat a decent Hawaii, Cal, UTEP, and Iowa State team (who barely lost to Kansas @ Allen field house yesterday b/c of a prayer 3 that banked in and sent the game to OT.)

    Oh boy, they lost at the pit by 5 points to a good NM team. THE SKY IS FALLING! THE SKY IS FALLING! FIRE RICE!

    All teams are young?

    Rebels starting 5 last year:
    Massamba (SR)
    Stanback (SR)
    Moser (Soph)
    Bellfield (SR)
    Marshall (JR).

    First off the bench:
    Justin Hawkins (JR)
    Quintrell Thomas (JR)
    Carlos Lopez (Soph)
    Kendall Wallace (SR)

    Oh yeah, #1 Duke... starting 3 seniors, 1 sophomore and 1 freshman. It's weird. If you check into it, most of the top 25 are starting multiple seniors and juniors.

    Tell me again how ALL teams are young?

    If your argument is that the Rebels aren't having the success that Kentucky had last year with a young team, then you will always be disappointed.

    Go Rebs!

  8. @Matt Philips:

    UNLV - 3 seniors, 3 juniors, 3 sophomores, 6 freshman
    Duke - 5 seniors, 2 juniors, 2 sophomores, 4 freshman
    Michigan - 5 seniors, 2 juniors, 2 sophomores, 6 freshman
    Arizona - 5 seniors, 3 juniors, 3 sophomores, 5 freshman

    It doesn't look to me like any of the teams are "stacked" with upperclassmen. It's a silly argument. Especially, since the best players leave for the NBA before their junior year. Oh yeah, and that Oregon team that beat UNLV and Arizona....they have a freshman named Ben Carter, from Bishop Gorman who's contributing big time minutes and results this year for the Ducks....how did we miss on that YOUNG local recruit?

    My point is that even last year with an "older" team, Rice couldn't get it done on the road. This year, it's the same thing....even with "his" players and a 2nd year in "his" system. Obviously, his "system" doesn't prepare our team for the road very well. To me, something is clearly wrong with the way he gets the team prepared for road games.

  9. Yes, but the majority of their seniors and juniors are starters. The Rebels have essentially 3 freshman starting this year. Also, each of those teams have more seniors and juniors than freshman.

    We're not going to get EVERY good local recruit, so don't cry over spilled milk.

    Carter is not a starter in Oregon, nor would he be a starter at UNLV. The Rebels only have so many scholarships, and so many people they can give quality minutes to off the bench. I really like Goodman. I think he's going to be a great player in time, but this poor kid has hardly seen the floor.

    Yes, the Rebels struggled away from the T&M last year, but have only LOST to two tournament teams so far this year on the road.

    Don't get me wrong... I'm not calling Dave Rice the coach of the year, but he and his staff have done a phenomenal job of recruiting young talent and he's not doing as bad a job as people make him out to be.

  10. Let me first say I respect all college athletes. They have tremendous skill and the work that has gone into their craft to play at this level is to be commended. Having said that, i just don't understand how we continue to miss out on big opportunities. The last big opportunity we took advantage of was the North Carolina game last year. We seem to be riding on the accolades that came with that win. I think our seniors are trying to do too much. I don't know if there's a jealousy issue over the praise and recognition the younger players are getting or what but a few comments in the media lately seem to indicate the seniors are casting some blame on the younger players. In actuality, the seniors need to accept their role. The way this team wins is through Bennet and ultimately Moser when he gets healthy. Our outside shooting continues to be atrocious and we still don't really know how to run a half court offense. Lots of work to be done yet for this incredibly talented team.

  11. Its not Rice's schemes or adjustments that are keeping the team from reaching its potential...he runs good stuff & his concepts are solid. Did you see that five pass possession vs UNM? Inside out then three swing passes for a wide open/made 3. It was perfect.

    The problem is standards. He is too nice & indifferent when the players go off on their own offensively or when they make repeated defensive mental mistakes. The players DO NOT fear repercussions when they take a stupid shot or dont switch/box out on D. He needs to use the bench more as a tool to get the players to conform to what he wants. He has the depth to do it. He needs to re define what "freedom" means so it can co exist with "valuing the possession." It doesnt have to be one or the other.

    Right now, they have a choice. He needs to set in stone a culture where they have no choice. Its his way or the Bench! It should not matter who it is! Hook'em! How many BDJ or Moser or Katin one pass-contested 3's or forced shots do we have to suffer through? 8-10 a game? The bottom line is it is those wasted 8-10 possessions per game, vs a quality opponents, that is the difference between winning & losing. And I might be generous by saying "only" 8-10. lol

  12. Disappearing but not surprising is the precisely realistic position. Long season, go Rebels!

  13. Good point djonian. I personally would like to see some emotion out of Rice. Show some passion. Get mad. Get happy. Get excited. Anything!

  14. @sinatra

    You said - Oh yeah, and that Oregon team that beat UNLV and Arizona....they have a freshman named Ben Carter, from Bishop Gorman who's contributing big time minutes and results this year for the Ducks....how did we miss on that YOUNG local recruit?

    Have you looked at Carter's stats? He is not contributing big time minutes or results. Last 3 games 12 minutes total and against Arizona he played 1 min and got 2 fouls.

  15. @jke1717 - "Good point djonian. I personally would like to see some emotion out of Rice. Show some passion. Get mad. Get happy. Get excited. Anything!"

    Did you watch the NCAA Tournament game vs. Colorado last year?