Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2010 | 9:17 p.m.
This loss shouldn’t have come as a surprise.
The UNLV basketball team, you see, has been flirting with disaster the past week, a string a three consecutive poor performances in which their weaknesses have been majorly exposed.
Despite being ranked No. 22 in the nation, the Rebels haven’t played like it the last week, highlighted by Wednesday night’s 68-62 loss to UC Santa Barbara at the Thomas & Mack Center.
The Rebels’ many deficiencies were glaringly obvious, as the 15-point betting favorites were dealt a crushing — and unacceptable — blow on their home court.
The Rebels (9-2) struggle in guarding the perimeter, have virtually no inside presence and often settle for an early outside shot offensively instead of letting something develop. It’s one thing to be fast-paced and to play at a high tempo, but when that tempo turns into a reckless play and quick possessions resulting in no points, you have a problem.
That pretty sums up their last three games, starting last Wednesday when they led by nearly 20 points against Boise State but had to hang on for a three-point win.
In a 77-69 loss to Louisville on Saturday, the Rebels had their five-point halftime advantage erased primarily because Louisville caught fire in the second half, shooting 54 percent and out-rebounding UNLV by 11 boards for the game.
Several of the same trends continued against Santa Barbara, especially the perimeter defense. Santa Barbara connected on nine of 19 of its 3-pointers in leading for most of the game. The Gauchos (5-3) led by as many as 12 points in the first half to pick up their most significant win of the young season.
A majority of those shots were uncontested attempts, when Santa Barbara rotated the ball to an open shooter for a relatively easy basket. It didn’t hurt that Santa Barbara’s players became more confident as the game grew longer, the result of letting an upset-minded team hang around way too long.
Offensively, the Rebels seemed content settling for the outside shot, and when they did try to run a set, there was often confusion. And, by shooting 6-of-29 on 3-pointers like the Rebels did Wednesday, the offensive deficiencies become that more troublesome.
It starts with getting the team’s trio of post players — Quintrell Thomas, Brice Massamba and Carlos Lopez — more involved. They combined for just nine points and 13 rebounds and continue to be a non-factor on the offensive end.
Against Louisville, they combined for five points and eight rebounds and only had 13 points and five rebounds against Boise State. That lack of production — remember, those totals are for three players — puts too much pressure on the rest of the team.
It all starts with confidence.
The post players are timid with the ball in their hands, and the Rebels’ other players don’t have confidence to get them involved. No matter what level of basketball it is, you aren’t going to win many games without more production from the inside.
Still, the Rebels rallied to make things interesting late. They only trailed by three points with 45 seconds remaining but ultimately dug themselves too big of a hole and couldn’t pull off the comeback.
After all, it’s hard to mount a comeback with a 19-of-32 performance from the free throw line, including missing the front end of several one-and-one opportunities in the final 10 minutes.
The Rebels are fortunate it’s only December. There is still plenty of time to fix the mistakes, a long list of deficiencies that weren’t so obvious one week ago.