Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Thursday, Feb. 11, 2010 | 2:05 a.m.
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Ryan Greene and Ray Brewer take a look at just what went wrong in No. 23 UNLV's Wednesday night 76-66 home loss to No. 15 New Mexico. The Rebels were handled on the boards, but can they bounce back in time for Saturday's tough road trip to face San Diego State.
There was no need to elaborate too much.
"Because they out-hustled us," he said in a humbled tone.
From that flawed intangible, problems snowballed for the Rebels (19-5 overall, 7-3 Mountain West Conference), who couldn't capitalize on the momentum from a resounding 88-74 victory over then-No. 12 BYU just four days earlier at the Thomas & Mack Center.
First came the red-hot 3-point shooting for the Lobos (22-3, 8-2), who hit their first five long-range attempts.
Then came the Rebels hurrying to take too big of chunks out of a growing deficit by settling for contested, out-of-rhythm 3-pointer after out-of-rhythm 3-pointer.
And that was topped by the Lobos scurrying after seemingly every loose ball just a little more aggressively than the hosts, helping stymie every comeback attempt UNLV could piece together. In the end, that contributed to a 45-23 victory in the rebounding column for New Mexico and 19 second-chance points.
"New Mexico pretty much whipped us in every aspect of the game," UNLV coach Lon Kruger said. "Rebounding the basketball, they were quicker to loose balls, and they shot it extremely well."
In front of a crowd of 18,044 that was still pretty much in euphoria 96 hours removed from Saturday's blowout, the Lobos followed the lead of junior forward and Vegas native Darington Hobson, who was a catalyst behind the hot start. Before several in attendance could down their first hot dog or soda, Steve Alford's club was up 10-2.
"We just came in with confidence. Coach told us to come out, be confident and loose," said Hobson, who continually interacted with the crowd in the arena where he watched countless games as a kid.
After constructing a lead as big as 15 points in the first half, the Lobos did to the Rebels exactly what they did in a losing effort at home on Jan. 9 — bully UNLV underneath.
UNLV was hurried in trying to get out from the hole created early and began chucking up 3-pointers by the bunches.
In the end, the Rebels were 10-of-30 on 3-pointers and attempted 28 shots from inside the arc.
"It started outside real early," said sophomore guard Oscar Bellfield, who was 4-of-10 from outside and led UNLV with 15 points. "We should have worked our way inside and then brought it back out.
"We were just going too fast. The pace was going too fast and people weren't really thinking and, I mean, that's just something we can learn from."
Still, as dangerous as it can be to rely on the deep ball to overcome a deficit, it nearly helped the Rebels steal a game that New Mexico physically controlled for much of the night.
UNLV found itself trailing 61-43 with 11:40 to play, and after a 30-second timeout, somehow rallied together for a 20-4 run that included two of Bellfield's treys and seven points from Willis.
A pair of Willis free throws pulled UNLV to within two points at 65-63 with 3:38 to go, but that's when New Mexico reasserted itself underneath.
Rebounding prowess isn't controlled by a switch that flips on and off, and New Mexico showed late that it never went away inside.
After Willis hit the charities, the 6-foot-7 Hobson got the ball in a one-on-one situation along the left wing. He drove hard, trying to draw contact. After missing a layup, he ripped down the loose ball, went up and softly flicked two points in off of the iron.
"Seventeen offensive rebounds, you're not winning the 50-50 balls, not doing the things you have to to get second shots, especially there late," Kruger said. "You certainly can't afford to give up second shots at that time."
Added Willis: "He went to the offensive glass, and that's where he got all of his money at."
That was followed by a Willis turnover — he slipped while driving down the right side of the lane and was not awarded a foul call in traffic — and a Phillip McDonald corner 3-pointer all but sealed it.
"Doesn't matter if I think it was a foul or not. It was a no-call; I'll play with it," Willis said. "It was very frustrating, especially in your building when you get out-worked. It's not what we want to be about and we can't come out and bring efforts like that."
The Lobos' ability to control things inside wasn't some big surprise, either.
New Mexico, which entered ranking second in the Mountain West in average rebounding margin at plus-5.7, won the battle on the boards in the first meeting with UNLV in Albuquerque on Jan. 9, 41-30.
Doing a good amount of the heavy lifting was Hobson, who snatched 13 rebounds to go with his game-high 16 points and four assists in front of countless family members and friends.
"One of the main things we try to do is just pursue the ball. We worked on it all week in practice," he said. "They play four guards and we play four guards, so we knew it was going to be a battle on the boards, so one of the main things we tried to do was just pursue the ball."
It also didn't hurt the Lobos' cause that they hit 11 of the 21 3-point attempts they hoisted, highlighted by a 4-of-8 performance from senior forward Roman Martinez. New Mexico had similar open looks from outside in the first meeting, but hit only four of 18 3-point tries in that contest.
On the flip side, the offensive guns, which did the brunt of the scoring for UNLV in the trip to Albuquerque last month, were more than accounted for.
Willis's 13 points came the hard way, as he was just 4-of-13 from the floor and 1-of-5 from deep.
Chace Stanback, who had his break-out game in the 74-62 triumph at The Pit with 14 points and nine rebounds, produced just four points on 2-of-8 shooting and four rebounds in 34 minutes of play.
Only one of his rebounds came on the defensive end, and UNLV finished with only 15 defensive boards to combat New Mexico's 17 offensive caroms.
Improving in that area before taking on San Diego State on the road this Saturday afternoon could prove to be more important than anything.
The Aztecs, who are tops in the league in average rebounding margin at plus-7.8, also swarmed the offensive glass in their first meeting with the Rebels.
However, that was just the third leg of a 16-game Mountain West Conference schedule.
Now, with UNLV having been knocked down a rung from what was a three-way tie in first with New Mexico and BYU, the margin for error continues to shrink. The trip to San Diego for Saturday's 1 p.m. tip is the first leg in a crucial two-game road swing, which ends in Salt Lake City next Wednesday night against Utah.
"They just came after it, and I guess they just wanted it more," Bellfield said. "That's what we have to take at San Diego State, be really after it from beginning to end."