AP Photo/The Coloradoan, Erin Hull
Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014 | 10 p.m.
Similar to how they played for 40 minutes, the Rebels had no defense for what happened at Moby Arena.
They knew they shouldn’t overlook a Colorado State team on a three-game losing streak yet did it anyway. They knew they couldn’t allow a struggling offensive attack to affect them on offense and proceeded to do just that.
Oh, and that defense. Colorado State (13-10, 4-6) came in as the second-worst shooting team in Mountain West play but hit 50 percent in a 75-57 beatdown that UNLV (15-8, 6-4) seemed content to passively observe.
“I would give it an F,” junior Khem Birch said of UNLV’s defense. “We didn’t come to play at all. We gave them cuts; we gave them everything.”
Birch, who was one of the only guys to play hard with 15 points and 12 rebounds, only had two blocks because he spent most of his time on the perimeter guarding Colorado State’s J.J. Avila. That opened the lane for a series of cuts that carved up the Rebels all night, plus Avila scored 10 points with a couple of 3-pointers anyway.
The Rebels have been beaten by several great driving guards this season (see: Arizona State’s Jahii Carson and UNR’s Deonte Burton) but this was more about not getting in the way of cutting lanes and allowing guys with momentum toward the basket to catch the ball unmolested inside the free-throw line.
If this was a failure of execution, and there was plenty of that from a team that hit 35.6 percent from the field and 50 percent at the free-throw line, it was also a failure of effort. That starts with coach Dave Rice, who could have done more to keep Birch close to the basket, and includes most of UNLV’s key players, who were all benched a little more than midway through the second half.
“We tried to communicate that Colorado State would be fired up and ready to play,” Rice said.
Birch said that message didn’t get through, and after watching the Rebels lose at Moby Arena for the third straight year it would be hard to argue.
“You win four straight, you get big-headed,” Birch said. “… I think we thought we could come in here and blow them out.”
One game after playing only three minutes because he yelled at and tried to get at CSU coach Larry Eustachy, the Rams’ Daniel Bejarano put on a show with 24 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists. The two downplayed the incident Tuesday and hugged before the start of the game tonight.
“That’s why I’m in coaching,” Eustachy said, “to have those moments and watch a guy bounce back like that after a difficult loss.”
Four Rams finished in double-figure scoring and CSU never trailed after going ahead 6-4. The Rebels trailed by 13 at halftime and never got any closer than that in the second half. The absence of any type of run was part of the reason Rice put his five starters on the bench for a stretch in the second half.
“I wanted to make sure I had guys on the floor who were going to play hard,” Rice said.
Sophomore guard Daquan Cook, who had six points and several hustle plays in 20 minutes, was the only guy besides Birch that Rice mentioned as a positive. It’s going to be an especially ugly film session Thursday as the team prepares for a home game against Wyoming.
More than just snapping UNLV’s four-game winning streak, this loss effectively ends the few conversations still whispered about an outside shot at an at-large berth. Not to mention what it could have done within the league on a night UNR lost and both San Diego State and New Mexico went down to the wire.
“It was a tremendous opportunity for us to make up ground and actually keep ourselves in the conference championship race,” Rice said.
Instead, the Rebels will keep treading water in the middle. Going on the road and flying back with a win isn’t easy but there’s a difference between losing and what happened here tonight.
There’s no excuse for the Rebels to never be in this game, and they know it. Maybe they’ll learn from it moving forward but it’s awfully late in the season for a no-show like this.
“It’s one game,” Rice said, “but it’s a very, very bad game.”