Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Saturday, March 9, 2013 | 7:40 p.m.
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- BOX SCORE: Fresno State 61, UNLV 52
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Whether there was a specific moment or just an accumulation of warning signs, UNLV coach Dave Rice and seniors Anthony Marshall and Justin Hawkins said they could see this coming as early as Thursday afternoon.
The aforementioned "this" is a 61-52 loss to 14-point underdog Fresno State on Saturday afternoon in front of a stunned Thomas & Mack Center crowd of 17,707. They showed up in white for Senior Day and by the end may as well have waved those shirts in surrender.
“I didn’t feel like we had a sense of how difficult this game today was going to be,” Rice said.
Considering this is the same Fresno State (11-18, 5-11) team that previously handed the Rebels (23-8, 10-6) arguably their most humiliating loss of the season, that mentality says a lot about the team.
Rice didn't offer any specifics that triggered his concerns. He was a little more vocal in practice at the end of the week but overall the sessions ran mostly as usual. Still, something he saw either on the court or in the locker room troubled Rice and was clear to at least two of the players.
“Our immaturity showed up again, as it has all season long,” he said.
What showed up Saturday, especially in the second half, was a version of the messy game UNLV often plays on the road. Only this one was at home.
After starting the game 1-for-13 shooting from the field, Fresno State hit 10 of its next 12 shots and with less than nine minutes left in the first half took a lead it wouldn’t relinquish the rest of the way. The Bulldogs’ Kevin Foster hit that go-ahead shot, one of six straight 3-pointers he made coming off the bench in the first half. Foster finished with 25 points and 10 rebounds while Cimarron grad Kevin Olekaibe had 13 points and eight assists to help complete the series sweep.
UNLV’s previous season-low point total was in the 64-55 loss in Fresno. Saturday topped it.
Fresno State’s victory locks up the 7 seed in the Mountain West tournament, which is important because it avoids the play-in game Tuesday night. For the Rebels, the loss -- combined with Colorado State’s victory against UNR -- drops them into the 3 seed, the same place they’ve been for the past three seasons.
That means a matchup against Air Force, who was defeating first-place New Mexico at home while UNLV was losing. The Rebels will play Wednesday at noon on CBS Sports Network.
The silver lining is there are games still to be played but the optimism ran into a brick wall along with UNLV’s five-game winning streak. The potential problems were obvious to everyone with the power to correct them yet no one was able to accomplish that.
“I didn’t want to speak up on it too much because I didn’t want to get anyone discouraged on the team; make them think I’m negative,” Hawkins said.
Yet in the second half as UNLV was botching and fumbling away its comeback hopes Hawkins had no problem getting in Katin Reinhardt’s face after the freshman committed a turnover on a fast break that led to free throws at the other end. Mike Moser would get in Reinhardt’s face later in the game about a defensive miscommunication that led to more free throws.
That’s a lot of talking during or after the fact that could have been useful beforehand, when the seniors sensed something was amiss. And maybe the target isn’t right, either.
Take away Reinhardt’s 1-for-8 shooting night and it’s not like everything’s solved. The team, not one player, shot terribly in the second half and didn’t play consistent defense.
The Rebels were 1-for-12 on 3-point attempts in the second half. Reinhardt hit it with 9:52 remaining and it would turn out to be the last field goal the team would make.
For nearly 10 minutes at the end of a Senior Day game in the Mack against one of the bottom three teams in league, UNLV didn’t make a shot.
“We didn’t move the ball early so we got out of sync and then panicked and tried to hit home-run plays,” Rice said.
The ball was “sticky,” Marshall said, with each play more likely to end in a forced or selfish shot than one that would best help the team. Marshall, who finished with 11 points, seven rebounds and seven assists to four turnovers, took some blame for that. There’s plenty to go around, because none of the main contributors could walk away satisfied with his performance.
Moser had nine rebounds and 11 points but he needed 13 shots to get there, including hitting 1-of-6 from deep. Anthony Bennett was still struggling with pain in his left shoulder, Rice said, and finished with five points and two rebounds in 17 minutes.
Even Bryce Dejean-Jones, who had been making major strides in the past couple of weeks, was just so-so with six points on 3-for-9 shooting and eight rebounds.
From the coaching staff down, this performance wasn’t even close to good enough for a team trying to get better, not worse, in March. They know it.
“If we kept thinking we’re too good to play basketball it would come back and bite us in the butt,” Hawkins said.
It did. Hard. Now the Rebels have four days to figure out how to play together consistently in a way that still escapes them after four months.