Instant Analysis: Follies abound as UNLV stumbles in key spot against New Mexico

Plenty of troubling aspects in another sloppy performance from the Rebels

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV coach Dave Rice reacts as a call goes against his team during their game against New Mexico Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014 at the Thomas & Mack Center.

UNLV vs. New Mexico: Feb. 19, 2014

UNLV guard Bryce Dejan Jones is screened by New Mexico forward Cameron Bairstow as guard Hugh Greenwood moves to the basket during the first half of their Mountain West Conference game Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014 at the Thomas & Mack Center. Launch slideshow »

The cover art or defining image of UNLV’s 68-56 disappointment against New Mexico Wednesday at the Thomas & Mack Center had to come with 16:56 remaining in the game.

New Mexico forward Cameron Bairstow made an easy, uncontested shot to put the Lobos up a then game-high 45-31. Roscoe Smith put his head down to sulk, grabbed the ball and tossed the inbounds pass into, well, no one.

A panicked Smith ran into play to grab the ball for a preposterous turnover. Seemed about right on a night when UNLV never led or even seemed in the game against a team it beat earlier in the season.

The Rebels were confused, sloppy and, ultimately, embarrassing as they fell to 17-9 on the season and 8-5 in the Mountain West to kill any lingering hope of finishing second in the conference.

That was an obvious observation. Below are a few more.

What the game means: Honestly? Take a deep breath and drag your browser to the left to conceal the red X in the corner before reading this, but not much. The damage was done before tonight’s Lobo letdown. The Rebels’ season, as stated ad nauseam, will come down to the Mountain West Conference tournament in a few weeks. A 30-point win or a 30-point loss at the Mack tonight wasn’t going to change that as their only route to the NCAA Tournament.

What the proceedings did change is the perception of the Rebels’ chances to pull off an unexpected conference tournament championship for the first time in six years. It’s not looking good. Even the most eternal optimist can’t like UNLV’s chances at beating New Mexico and San Diego State, as it would almost certainly take, after that fiasco against the former.

Williams lives up to his word The prevailing narrative from UNLV’s 76-73 victory at the Pit over New Mexico earlier this season was that it played inspired after being motivated by a slight from Lobos junior Alex Kirk. Kirk likened the Rebels to an AAU team, a rather innocent comment that was blown out of proportion. New Mexico point guard Kendall Williams had some similarly uncontroversial remarks about his team’s confidence heading into the Mack that could have been translated otherwise. Did no one pass them along to the Rebels?

Didn’t look like it. Williams torched UNLV for a season-high 29 points on 11-for-17 shooting, including four three-pointers. Williams really seemed to break loose when New Mexico began repeatedly running the pick-and-roll late in the first half with Cameron Bairstow, who got a good chunk of his 18 points from the play. The Rebels had no answer, reviving a troublesome trend of the team not displaying efficiency at simple concepts like beating the zone, not allowing backdoor cuts or defending the pick-and-roll.

Was Williams not offensive enough? At least the Rebels taught that meanie Kirk a lesson, getting him into foul trouble to hold him to eight points and six rebounds.

Anyone got the time? Deville Smith might want to give the sundial a try. It can’t be any worse than his current timekeeping method, which is consistently hurting not only him but also his team. Smith showed up late to a shootaround Wednesday, which forced coach Dave Rice to hold his point guard out of the starting lineup for the second straight game. Smith also sat out at the beginning of Saturday’s win at Utah State because he didn’t get to the bus on time.

Missing Smith for the first five minutes was far from one of UNLV’s most serious issues against New Mexico, but it’s just another instance of a lack of discipline and aloofness that’s dogged this team all year. The Rebels have clearly benefited when Deville Smith is in the starting five. So even if no one volunteers to invest in an old-fashioned time instrument for him, could they at least change the clock settings on his iPhone to five minutes earlier?

Quick look at the box score: Didn’t feel like things could get worse from the first-half box score, when UNLV went 1-for-11 from three-point range and 8-for-18 from the free-throw line. It did. UNLV was out-rebounded by nine in the second half to lose the overall battle 45 to 38. They improved from the arc, shooting two of 10, but got worse from the floor to finish with field goal percentage of 32. Despite almost all of their shots being at the rim, Roscoe Smith and Khem Birch combined to go 6-for-19. Birch finished as the leader with both 12 points and 11 rebounds, but went 3-for-10 from the charity stripe.

Up next: There’s no easy chance for a reprieve coming Saturday. UNLV travels to play at Taco Bell Arena, where it will be an underdog around the price of a couple chalupas against Boise State. It took a minor miracle for the Rebels to beat the Broncos at the Mack earlier this month as they overcame an 11-point deficit in the final 3:29 of the game. Boise State craves revenge. Kind of like New Mexico did Wednesday.

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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