Analysis:

UNLV Extras: Cal loss will be the takeaway from Rebels’ 2012-13 season

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

As the Cal flag waves in the background, UNLV coach Dave Rice walks off the floor with his team after falling to Cal 64-62 in their NCAA Tournament game in the Round of 64 on Thursday, March 21, 2013, in San Jose, Calif.

NCAA Tournament - UNLV vs. Cal

UNLV forward Anthony Bennett is interviewed in the locker room after their 64-61 loss to Cal during their second round game at the NCAA Basketball Tournament Thursday, March 21, 2013 at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif. Launch slideshow »

Dave Rice calls it the proliferation of the NCAA Tournament, and it’s about to make this a difficult offseason. That’s because his 51 victories and dozens of stars accrued in recruiting rankings don’t carry nearly as much weight as his 0-2 record in the only games most fans really care about.

He’ll tell you progress has been made (see below) but patience has a way of evaporating after these type of performances. UNLV was outscored 19-3 before Rice’s timeouts early in each half, and the 64-61 loss to Cal could have been far worse. It could have been better, too, considering how many close shots and free throws UNLV missed, but it was much closer to being a Golden Bears blowout than a Rebels win.

Two games are a small sample size. However, until the Rebels’ five-game NCAA losing streak is broken, every positive piece of UNLV news with be met with, “Yeah, but they can’t win when it matters.”

Cal zone

Golden Bears coach Mike Montgomery has been a head coach in college since 1977, minus a three-year stint with the NBA’s Golden State Warriors and one year out of the profession. So he knows what he’s doing.

Against UNLV, Montgomery’s plan was to switch up his defense, going man after makes and zone after misses, when it’s harder to scramble back and pick up your man. Two things then happened to make Cal basically play zone the entire game.

First, the Rebels played right into Cal’s hands by shooting over the top of the zone frequently throughout the game. Montgomery couldn’t have drawn up a better game play-by-play. Four of UNLV’s first five shot attempts were 3-pointers, and making two of them may have actually helped Cal in the long run as it gave the Rebels confidence to keep chucking.

And secondly, Cal didn’t even have to consider man for more than half the second half because UNLV went 11:32 without making a shot.

“The zone bothered them,” Montgomery said.

You think?

Rebels’ lackluster debuts

Five Rebels played in their first NCAA Tournament game Thursday, and only Khem Birch (six rebounds, five points, four blocks) had a solid debut. And he only played six minutes in the second half because of a coach’s decision.

Anthony Bennett did finish with a double-double, but he was rarely assertive on offense and he was one of a few Rebels who sounded out of touch after the game.

Bennett: “We came out hard. Things weren’t falling for us.”

Katin Reinhardt: “We just didn’t make shots.”

Bryce Dejean-Jones: “We were missing some easy shots we usually make.”

Those lines ring as hollow as they did after UNLV’s loss at Fresno State in February. Yes, UNLV did miss some easy looks. For example, freshman Savon Goodman had a chance to end UNLV’s field goal-less drought before it got to 11:32 but his dunk attempt went flying off the rim. But as detailed above, Cal made the Rebels uncomfortable.

“I just don’t think they probably liked it that much,” Montgomery said.

Anthony Marshall was one of the few players I spoke with who admitted UNLV wasn’t doing exactly what it wanted in its zone offense (something I’m guessing the game film makes very clear).

Marshall said he felt the various ball screens UNLV was using in the first half were getting some results.

“That allowed us guards, the perimeter players, to get into the middle of the key and that gave us options,” he said. “Shoot it, dump it down to the post player or kick out to the other shooters.”

The Rebels stopped doing that in the second half, he said, instead settling for passing the ball around the perimeter with a four out, one in scheme that left UNLV without rebounders the few times they did put up a shot in the post.

Simply put, UNLV didn’t look like it knew what to do against Cal’s zone, a defensive scheme the Golden Bears weren’t even completely committed to until they saw how well it was working.

The last word

It’s not like I won’t write more about this game, but most of the stuff now is going to be much more forward looking. So with that in mind, I’m yielding this space to Rice’s final comments before he walked back into the locker room and shut the door on the 2012-13 season. He was asked what it’s going to take to get over the hump in the tournament:

It starts tomorrow and it starts in the spring and the summer and the fall. Games like today are won in April and May and June and not just won in March. It’s a total commitment from every player and every coach in the program. Just a total commitment to do absolutely everything, to do things that are for the team; hard work, it’s all part of the equation, and that’s why it’s so hard to win games. That’s why 68 teams get into the NCAA Tournament and 280 or 290, whatever the number is, don’t, because it’s something that’s extremely hard to do. I’m extremely proud of our seniors and their contributions, and we’ve got a lot of work to do. I’ve said it from Day One of this season, we’ve got a long way to go. We’re moving in the right direction. People think that it’s coach-speak, and it’s not. We have a long way to go. This program went 15 years and went to two NCAA Tournaments, and now we’ve been four years in a row and six out of seven and we are by no means satisfied at all ending the season like this. But it’s a process and we’re going to solve the equation and we’re going to figure it out and we’re going to do it through hard work and camaraderie, because that’s the only way you can do it.

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

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  1. "Anthony Bennett...was one of a few Rebels who sounded out of touch after the game."

    Bennett's been "out of touch" most of the regular season. He gets my vote for most over-hyped player ever.

  2. I think one of the major issues facing the program is the whole "Runnin" theme. This year's team struggled mightily in the half-court, and the offense was clearly built for running. But it's much easier to stop someone from running than it is to run with them.

    The recruiting under Rice has been very good, but the way he sells the program seems to run counter to our success. On one hand, we get some great talent by promising fast-paced offense with freedom given to the players to create their own shots. On the other hand, "freedom" on offense leads our guys to play selfishly in the half court rather than work as a team to attack whatever defense is in front of them. Like when our NBA-lottery-PF decides he wants to float out on the wing and shoot jumpers rather than post up, or when our shooting guards fire up contested deep 3's and off-balance medium-range jumpers, rather than penetrate and pass to guys with better looks.

    If we are going to become a better half-court team, it has to start in November even if it means we de-emphasize the running. Or else we have to become a team that dictates tempo via pressure defense and creates more opportunities to run, and accept the fact that we are not a great half-court team. It's easy to say "We need to do both!", but really, how many teams do both? Look at the stats, Indiana was the only legitimate contender this year to score 80 ppg, and they are hardly considered a "running" team.

    I'm not advocating giving up on the whole running theme. But right now we try to live in some in-between-place offensively, and the result is we can't run and our half-court offense is easy to stop. Somehow Rice and company need to install some discipline on offense while still allowing players some freedom. Maybe they did try and this team was just too young, or just had bad chemistry. But to me, the Cal loss (and the rest of the late-season collapse) is due to an overall system breakdown, not some in-game coaching breakdown by Rice. You can't become someone you are not in the NCAA tournament.

  3. @COrebel (Tim Flanagan): nicely stated and well reasoned observation.

  4. What a genius coach. Build your game plan around the team's nickname.

    Interview with the fans:

    Rice: Hey, we're the Runnin' Rebels, so let's push the ball up the floor the entire game and keep the defense on its heels!

    Fans: But what about your players, shouldn't you build your offensive scheme around the abilities of your athletes?

    Rice: Nonsense!!! We're the "Runnin" Rebels! Get it?! Excuse me one second please.

    [Coach Rice then turns to yell at the players practicing, who are doing NOTHING fast breaks.]

    Rice: C'mon boys! Run! Run! C'mon fast break don't ever stop and run a play! If I see 5 players on offense passing the ball around, we're all gonna stay late and run sprints!

    [Coach Rice then turns to KATIN REINHARDT, who is practicing alone, shooting three pointers.]

    Rice: Reiny! I said NBA THREES! Why are you shooting from the COLLEGIATE distance? It looks a WAY MORE AWESOME on TELEVISION when you shoot from 15 feet beyond the 3 point arc! Back up boy!

    [Coach Rice then turns to ANTHONY BENNETT, who is doing ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.]

    Rice: Aunt Benny! Doing fantastic son! You are saving your energy for your 2-year stint in the NBA playing for a 13-win team where you will average 2.3 points a game. Way to think ahead!

    [Coach Rice turns back to the fans.]

    Fans: So how is the recruiting class for next season looking?

    Rice: Well, most of the team will look to turn pro, even though none of them are ready. But we will have a fresh batch of junior college players coming in. And let's not forget Bishop Gorman, my BRO is the coach there! We gonna be good, right?

    Fans: Uhh, no.

    Rice: Whatever, go Gaels! Next question.

    Fans: How will your offense react when the other team slows the pace down and drops into a zone?

    [Coach Rice appears confused and frustrated.]

    Rice: Uhh...[glances at clipboard].

    [45 Seconds of awkward silence follows].

    Rice abruptly ends the interview, clearly confused and disoriented.

  5. Someone just posted Dave Rice's playbook, best tweet about the Rebels all week:

    https://twitter.com/hayden_simbal/status...

  6. @COrebel (Tim Flanagan) - You can run and be a good halfcourt team. BYU was good at both when Fredette and Rice were there. The Rebels need to run even more next year, but if the defense is set you have to run plays in the halfcourt.

  7. It's simple. You can't be a running team if you don't play defense.

  8. You can't be a running team without the right pg either. There were so many wasted opprotunities this year with poor decision making. It'll be nice to see d. smith and k. smith running the fast breaks next year. Maybe we'll see more then one ally oop.

  9. @phillips - Jimmer was a game-changing scorer that comes around once every couple of decades to a program like BYU. And BYU has gotten worse each year since he left.

    It isn't as simple as just saying "we're going to run". If the other team sends two guys back on defense as soon as the shot goes up, you can run all you want but you're not going to get any transition baskets.

    JerryWayne is right: "running" starts with defense. If we want to run we need more on-the-ball pressure and some full-court pressure to create more turnovers and get more "running" fast break points.

    It's not like our defense was that bad. Look at how many opponents we held under 65 - even in losses - since January. But our half-court defense that doesn't create running opportunities... on a team that was built to run and lacks a disciplined half-court offense.

    I guess what bothers me is that we're so close to being a really good team, but our core philosophy doesn't fit what we are actually doing on the court.

  10. @COrebel (Tim Flanagan) - I 100% agree that we need to utilize a full court press. Louisville does that, and I think UNLV would really benefit from it next year. They should be able to add more to their offensive and defensive concepts since they have some experience heading into next season. I think the big problem this year was immaturity. A lot of the guys who were getting the minutes just didn't have the experience to deal with certain game situations. Finally, you're right that the program is really close.

  11. @COrebel and JerryWayne - Running also starts with crashing the defensive boards which is something that this team doesn't seem to do. That is what the old UNLV teams used to do. I can still remember LJ, Butler, Scurry and Ackles crashing the defensive boards while screaming at the top of their lungs to intimidate opposing teams, and then immediately turing to look down court to hit the outlet man to get the break going. This team does ZERO of that.

    COrebel, I also agree with you. Jimmer's don't just fall out of the sky on a yearly basis. He was a once in decade type player but somehow Rice seems to think he can do the exact same thing with Reinhardt. I'm not saying Reinhardt won't be a great player someday but the chances that he does the things Jimmer did and average 28 ppg his senior year are probably pretty slim. I posted earlier too that Jimmer took time to develop and wasn't the Jimmer we came to know until his junior and senior years. Reinhardt is still a freshman and should be brought along slowly not given the green light to shoot the ball every time he sees an opening even when he's 5 feet back from the 3 point line. If Kaitin had shot 40-45% all year than i'd give him the green light. But when you are a freshman and you are shooting 35% from the field and 35% from 3 point land you should not be told to shoot whenever you want.

  12. Biggest problem this year and last year is Dave Rice. Period.(finally gave up on rice last night) We have such horrible offensive sets even after time outs. Makes me wonder what he tells them, probably just "make shots guys". And if they arent doing what theyre supposed to put in Lopez or Thomas. Im sure they would like the minutes, but changing things up should have all started on day one of the season. Rice keeps on having them do the same things and expecting something different. I'd rather have Kruger and the mediocre talent then tons of talent and a coach that below mediocre.

  13. Hey Coach, YOU have a long way to go. Man up and accept the blame you deserve for being an inept big game coach.

  14. Coach:

    Your assignment for the summer, should you accept it:

    1-grow a pair and get up in your players' faces when they need it ... Or bench them!
    2-learn how to coach against a zone defense. You will see plenty of it next year!
    3-develop a consistent rotation so each player knows what is expected of them.

    I am available to assist for a small consultant's fee!

  15. @lcr - You'll be waiting for a while.

  16. Hey geniuses. Why are you guys addressing Rice like he reads this stuff? Next season please call or visit him at the Dave Rice radio show. It was at the Orleans every Monday this last season. Don't waist your time here! We are all counting on you to help turn the program around! Stop telling me to bench Reinhardt and start telling Coach Rice!

  17. In Graney's column he wrote one player said we ran the same play all game. WTF When did you hear any athlete in any sport say something like that? We tried this & that but nothing worked, nothing like that. I don't know who said that if it was the last guy on the bench or one of our so called superstars but that was very disturbing. After venting my frustration & the Selection Show was Sunday, they only had 3 days to practice, maybe Rice & Co. tried to teach 2 plays but the players only learned 1 play. I can accept the loss but I can't accept the fact or fiction comment. I'd like to hear Bern or Graney to ask Rice WTF.

  18. @COrebel & mj20 & phillips - You guys all make valid points & criticisms regarding shot selection, style of play & defense. But when you consolidate them & try to apply solutions with this yr's personnel...you then find yourself in Rice's shoes with a zero sum reality & hard choices to make.

    I agree. Extend & pressure & force tempo. Sounds great. However, what about fatigue or the guaranteed foul trouble for Marshall it would produce? Who plays the pt then? Do you trust Katin to deny & defend? Is DQ ready for major minutes? Can we trust Hawkins to deliver/finish offensively? And the BIG elephant in the room: Can ANYBODY on the team be strong with the ball, get it to the middle of the floor, & make good decisions CONSISTENTLY in transition? I would argue NO. Seriously, for every transition opportunity our defense created...how many did we convert? I would say easily less than 50% or we gave it right back to them. It is those squandered possessions that end up sending you home in March.

    That is why COrebel is correct with his "in between" conclusion about our style of play. The personnel dictated that we dig in defensively, walk the ball up the floor, pound it into the paint, play inside out, & run when we had numbers. It is also...and this is huge...how we won 25 games!! We DID NOT "run" anybody out of ANY building this season. Meanwhile, Rice promised his players & recruits...and the fans....Run as One, Freedom, Lets Run & Runnin Rebels. The problem was the players (and Rice to some degree) still remained married to the latter philosophy and Rice didnt divorce them from it...hence the shoddy half court execution, guys taking upon themselves to "expand" their roles (like Bennett facing up & drifting, Marshall over dribbling, & Katin/BDJ free lancing. etc..) even though they BOTH knew reduced roles, sharing the ball, & playing half court was their best chance at winning. But it didnt happen.

    That failure to impose standards is squarely on Rice. And I've said that on here since day one. However, to be fair, it wasnt as if he was handed a perfect machine. Far from it. Rice wanted to keep his promises to his players & recruits & the Runnin Rebel image (style of play) but he wanted to win games too. Hopefully he learned that he cannot control that...his personnel does. As Sun Tzu said "he who tries to defend everything....defends nothing." And when I try and define our identity this season...that is exactly what I come up with: Nothing. I say pick a side, go all in, and let the chips fall.

  19. @djonian81: even though you're not fedup2here(Kenny Rodgers) and let's face it not many could be, your comment, to me, is outstanding; it fairly tries to assess the Rebels': their players, their coach, their offensive and defensive philosophies, and their season, hell you even threw in an "Art of War" quote; your comment was thoughtful and overarching without vituperations and vitriolic bombast. Kudos

    SunTzu said: "The good fighters of old first put themselves beyond the possibility of defeat, and then waited for an opportunity of defeating the enemy," and he also said, "One may know how to conquer without being able to do it."

  20. Keep your heads up boys. The nucleus is very young and talented. More help is on the way recruiting wise. The best is yet to come.
    Work hard this off season, see you same time next year!
    Go Rebs!

  21. I blame DJ Allen.

    Oh and our inability to attack the zone.

  22. Maybe Florida Gulf Coast's Coach is available. He's playing our desired style with 1/2 the talent.