Friday, Jan. 8, 2010 | 2:30 a.m.
Ryan Greene and Ray Brewer take a look back on what went down in Provo on Wednesday, as UNLV stumbled against BYU, losing 77-73 in its Mountain West Conference opener. The guys look at what must change for the Rebels before they take on No. 15 New Mexico on Saturday in Albuquerque.
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The 19 offensive rebounds BYU pulled down against UNLV in Wednesday night's 77-73 loss in Provo made for a hot postgame topic.
Those repeated second chances helped the Cougars stick around long enough to pounce as the Rebels fumbled away a late six-point lead.
Naturally, in the wake of said letdown, UNLV's interior play was active and feisty during a Thursday afternoon practice at the Thomas & Mack Center.
Adding significantly to that mix was a new presence — forward Quintrell Thomas.
The Kansas transfer, who will have three years of eligibility remaining beginning next season, took part in full-contact, half-court drills for the first time as a Rebel.
"It feels good being here playing, not just sitting on the side the whole time," the New Jersey native said. "I was borderline depressed at times because of how much I've been sitting on the sidelines just watching, but the closer you get, the better you feel."
The 6-foot-8, 245-pound sophomore, who is built for combat in the low post, underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder in late July.
After averaging 1.5 points and two rebounds per game a year ago for the Jayhawks, he was lost in the shuffle of Bill Self's deep rotation. He landed in Las Vegas, as Lon Kruger and his staff already had established a relationship with the Saint Patrick High grad as a prep before he committed to Kansas.
His arrival on the UNLV scout team on Thursday couldn't have come at a better time.
"One thing I've noticed since I've been practicing today is everybody's going to the boards a little harder, so that's good that I can actually get in there and put fire in them to do things we're lacking in right now," he said. "There's no reason we shouldn't be a better rebounding team."
Through 15 games, UNLV ranks eighth among nine Mountain West programs in rebounds allowed per game, averaging 36.3. The 36 boards the Rebels are taking down per outing rank sixth in the league. And UNLV's rebounding margin of -0.3 is eighth.
BYU's 19 offensive boards and the 44 the Cougars took down overall Wednesday stung UNLV a bit more than normal, given that rebounding was one of just a few facets of the game the Rebels didn't control.
Outside of that, defensively UNLV forced BYU to play a half-court game, which the Cougars clearly were uncomfortable with. However, the 15 second-chance points that BYU accumulated gave the home team enough of a boost to stick around and make the decisive late-game push.
"I think it hurts a little deeper when, maybe, one of the reasons we didn't win the game was the 19 offensive rebounds," Kruger said. "It certainly drives the point home a little bit."
Thomas said it was tough to watch the loss to BYU, but he speaks like a perfectionist, saying that every game can be tough to watch — win or lose. As if it's not hard enough not suiting up or traveling with his teammates, Thomas constantly envisions how he could contribute if the calendar were fast-forwarded a year.
"To tell you the truth, it's frustrating for me to watch every game, because I sort of see things going wrong and I know that if I was there I could help with certain things, but everybody makes mistakes," he said. "So you just have to watch and hope that they counter mistakes with good plays."
Instead, Thomas is working himself back into shape. His strength is good right now, and he's close to having his complete stamina back. Even though he was winded at times Thursday, Thomas contested hard for rebounds, knocked teammates around inside and even disrupted a handful of shots underneath.
When UNLV suits up again on Saturday to face No. 15 New Mexico in Albuquerque, of course, Thomas will be back in Las Vegas with the rest of the walk-ons and redshirts. Still, he's looking forward to helping the Rebels find their form during the second half of the season on the practice floor.
Whatever gets him away from having to watch practice from the sidelines, Thomas is all for it.
"The longest I've been away from basketball since I started playing was about a month," he said. "Being away from actual competitive basketball for six months is hard."