Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014 | 7:52 p.m.
SAN DIEGO — Momentum from a big win doesn’t always carry over in college basketball. Not on the road. Not when your next opponent is ranked in the top 10.
And definitely not when your shooting makes the basket look like it’s the size of a teacup.
Fresh off a win at New Mexico that seemed like a turning point in a disappointing season, the UNLV turned in a miserable shooting performance in a 63-52 loss to No. 10 San Diego State Saturday at Viejas Arena.
“The rim just wasn’t kind to us,” said Rebels forward Roscoe Smith, who notched 12 points and 10 rebounds for his 12th double-double of the season.
“That’s about it,” he said.
It was that way from the very start. Facing an Aztecs’ defense — coached by former UNLV assistant Justin Hutson — that is statistically one of the nation’s best, the Rebels missed their first six shots and 12 of their first 13. They finished the first half shooting a meager 24-percent as SDSU raced out to a 34-20 lead, handing UNLV’s its lowest-scoring first half since 2009.
UNLV (11-7, 2-3 Mountain West Conference) finished shooting just 30-percent, including just 2 of 18 on 3-pointers. Even their leading scorers were not immune to the cold streak, as guard Bryce Dejean-Jones (15 points) finished 7 for 25 from the field and point guard Deville Smith (13 points) went 5 of- 9. The two combined to miss all 13 of their 3-point attempts.
Deville Smith was needed to play 35 minutes because guard Kendall Smith did not play in the second half due to a migraine.
“We had some good looks early that didn’t go in and I thought we lost our confidence offensively a little bit,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said. “A lot of that credit goes to San Diego State and their defensive effort. But I told our guys that, from a defensive standpoint, I was proud of the way we battled as well.”
Indeed, the Aztecs (16-1, 5-0 MWC) didn’t exactly singe the nets either, shooting just 33.9 percent. The difference came in the paint and at the foul line. SDSU had 19 second-chance points to UNLV’s seven, while taking 27 foul shots to the Rebels’ 11.
“They were able to get to the free throw line and we weren’t," Rice said. "We need to go back and take a look at that and figure that out.”
SDSU point guard Xavier Thames made 11 of his 12 free throws in scoring a game-high 18 points. Forward Josh Davis presented problems inside for the Rebels, tallying 14 points and 14 rebounds.
UNLV battled back after the grisly start, opening the first half on an 8-2 run. A DeVille Smith layup cut the deficit to 50-45 with 5:46 remaining, but the Aztecs converted their free throws and kept the Rebels at arm’s length the rest of the way. The timely shot or key stop the Rebels desperately needed just never materialized.
“This is a tough environment to play in for a lot of guys, especially if this is their first time coming out," Roscoe Smith said. "We definitely got adjusted to it and then we played better in the second half.”
With the back-to-back games against Mountain West heavyweights in the rearview mirror, the schedule gets easier for UNLV — provided it can shake its woes at the Thomas & Mack Center, where it has lost five times this season. A home game against first-year Mountain West team Utah State looms Wednesday followed by contests with conference basement dwellers Fresno State and San Jose State.
“We’ll learn from this. It was a positive week for us,” Rice said. “Our guys are bitterly disappointed because we got the first one of two incredibly difficult games, winning one at The Pit. We came in here with a lot of confidence, but we didn’t quite get it done.”