Sunday, Dec. 4, 2011 | 6:13 p.m.
- Rebels showered with media attention as they prepare for UC Santa Barbara (11-29-2011)
- Rebels ranked 18th in Associated Press poll; forward Moser honored again by league (11-27-2011)
- Rebels party like it’s 1990, knock off top-ranked North Carolina (11-27-2011)
- Trying to figure out where the UNLV win against North Carolina ranks all-time (11-27-2011)
- 2011-12 UNLV Men's Basketball Schedule
- All UNLV Men's Basketball Coverage
WICHITA, Kan. — UNLV is all out of surprises.
Once you knock off the No. 1 team in the country, the days of sneaking up on an opponent are over. Instead, you get their maximum effort, something the Rebels weathered against UC Santa Barbara but looked ill prepared for in Sunday’s 89-70 loss at Wichita State.
“It’s really important for us to learn that part of the responsibility that goes with starting out 8-0 and being ranked is that we’re going to get everyone’s best shot,” coach Dave Rice said. “And we certainly got that today.”
The Shockers (5-2), and the raucous home crowd at Koch Arena, started the game full of energy and the 18th-ranked Rebels (8-1) simply couldn’t keep up.
After going toe-to-toe in the opening minutes, the Rebels fell silent — going nearly a full eight minutes without a made basket — while the Shockers, and specifically guard Joe Ragland, got loud. Ragland hit two three-pointers during the stretch and another just seconds after Justin Hawkins finally ended UNLV’s drought.
Ragland was a perfect 5-for-5 from three-point range at halftime and finished with a game- and career-high 31 points, including eight three-pointers.
“They got anything and everything they wanted,” Rice said.
The outburst could be traced to a miscommunication of the scouting report.
Asked for the preview on Ragland, the first word Rice said was, “shooter.”
However, guard Anthony Marshall, one of the primary Rebels charged with containing Ragland, said he was expecting more of a driver.
Either way, nothing worked.
“We were making mistakes on the defensive end,” said guard Chace Stanback, who led the Rebels with 16 points. “We weren’t on the same page.”
Said Rice, “One of the things we’ve been able to count on all season long is defensive execution, and it was a big problem for us today.”
Wichita State forward Carl Hall also presented problems in the paint, working over and through anyone that UNLV put on him. Hall finished with 17 points and center Garrett Stutz also had a decent game with 13 points in 22 minutes.
Despite all of the problems and a 15-point halftime deficit, Rice said he felt the game was still very much in reach. After all, just a few days earlier the coach lauded his team’s performances in the second half.
But the adjustments this time weren’t nearly enough, as Ragland continued to drill three-pointers.
“We dug ourselves into a really deep hole at halftime, but yet still had confidence coming out and executed well on the offensive end,” Rice said, “we just could not get a stop to start the second half.”
Another inhibition to the Rebels’ comeback attempt was fouls. Wichita State was in the bonus less than eight minutes into the second half and took seven more attempts at the free-throw line than in the first.
Throughout the game, Wichita State kept Mike Moser (12 points, seven rebounds) in check and challenged UNLV more aggressively than it has seen this season.
And the Shockers also kept the Runnin’ Rebels from living up to their name.
“It’s hard getting a run going against these guys just because they play so slow,” Moser said. “Free throws, fouls, just slowing the game down. … Everything just went so slow.”
It’s only one game and as far as losses go it’s not a bad one. Wichita State will likely contend for the Missouri Valley Conference title and should join UNLV in the NCAA Tournament.
UNLV won’t win many games in which it gives up 59 percent shooting, so the improvements have to start on the defensive end.
Rice said he’s made an effort lately to improve the team’s three-point defense, and after Sunday that effort will likely get shifted into overdrive.
Closing out on shooters more quickly yet under control and keeping hands up to contest shots are at the top of the list.
And now that opponents see how UNLV responds to a slow tempo, the Rebels will need a counter for that, too.
Technical adjustments aside, the disconcerting thing about the game for fans and the team has to be the lack of effort. Rice called his team out on it and, for the most part, they agreed.
“They definitely came out harder than we did,” Moser said.
Said Rice, “Without question they had more energy than we had today. And what the reason is, we could all speculate on that.”
Travel could be part of it, as could playing in a difficult environment. Trouble is, UNLV only has a week to figure out and correct it. Cal State San Marcos comes to the Orleans Arena on Wednesday, and then Saturday is another trip to the Midwest at No. 9 Wisconsin.
And Madison will be just as energized as Wichita. It’s up to UNLV to match it.