Familiar February Territory: UNLV clipped again by No. 6 SDSU, 63-57

Rebels 18-7 overall, 6-5 in MWC and left with no wiggle room in quest for NCAA tournament bid


Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV forward Brice Massamba greets fans after their 63-57 loss to San Diego State Saturday, February 12, 2011 at the Thomas & Mack Center.

UNLV vs. San Diego State Recap

"Sports Night in Las Vegas" recaps the UNLV vs. San Diego State basketball game Saturday.

UNLV vs. SDSU - 2-12-11

UNLV forward Brice Massamba puts up a shot against San Diego State forward Malcolm Thomas during their game Saturday, February 12, 2011 at the Thomas & Mack Center. San Diego State won 63-57. Launch slideshow »

UNLV vs. San Diego State

KSNV Sports coverage of No. 6 SDSU's 63-57 victory over UNLV at the Thomas & Mack Center on Saturday evening.

The Rebel Room

SDSU POSTGAME: Rebels' struggles with Aztecs continue in 63-57 loss

The UNLV basketball team had sixth-ranked San Diego State on the ropes in the closing minutes at the Mack, but some puzzling late shot attempts doomed the Rebels in a 63-57 loss. At 18-7 overall and 6-5 in the Mountain West, is UNLV still NCAA tourney-bound? Ryan Greene, Ray Brewer and Case Keefer discuss, plus talk about how high 25-1 SDSU's ceiling really is.

Reader poll

Now at 18-7 overall and 6-5 in the MWC, do you think UNLV is going to wind up in the NCAA tournament?

View results

Another opportunity for UNLV to solidify its NCAA tournament résumé has come and gone, and after a tough-to-swallow 63-57 loss at home to No. 6 San Diego State on Saturday, the word "bubble" is now officially a part of the local vernacular.

It's the third season in a row in which the Rebels looked like a shoo-in for the Big Dance late in the non-conference season, only to find themselves backed against a wall come mid-February.

"We've just got to win, that's all it is," junior guard Oscar Bellfield said quietly following the wrenching loss to the Aztecs. "We've got to stay together, keep our composure and just win."

The wiggle room the rest of the way is almost gone after the Rebels (18-7 overall, 6-5 Mountain West) let a game that appeared to be theirs in the closing minutes slip away in painful fashion.

For the first 30 minutes, the Aztecs (25-1, 10-1), played up to the number next to their name, battling injuries and foul trouble. They led 49-39 and had kept a sell-out crowd of 18,557 at the Thomas & Mack Center silent for much of the way.

Then, the Rebels made a gritty push by beating SDSU at its own game.

Instead of relying on the 3-point shot as they've been prone to do in several recent outings, UNLV fed off of the monster minutes played by junior reserve forward Brice Massamba.

Massamba, who has been a non-factor for much of MWC play, came from the abyss to score 11 points and pull down six rebounds. He scored on second-chance buckets, created opportunities for himself and cleared things up underneath for teammates to either score at the rim or draw repeated fouls.

As UNLV continued to stay away from the run-and-gun style it typically prefers, SDSU's armor was dented time and time again.

The biggest blow for the Aztecs came with 3:45 left, when senior forward Billy White was called for his fifth foul on the offensive end heading into the game's final TV timeout. It took out a leg from SDSU's already depleted front-court. The team was without junior Tim Shelton for the third straight game with a foot injury, while senior Malcolm Thomas was playing with four fouls of his own.

After the break, Tre'Von Willis kissed a floater off the glass in traffic to give UNLV a 55-54 lead with 3:07 to play. It was the Rebels' first lead since going up 2-0 in the opening minute.

"I don't know if we had the game, but we had it in our minds that we were gonna fight and battle for it," Willis said.

What transpired after UNLV obtained the lead, though, was perplexing in several ways.

The Rebels were on the verge of beating the Aztecs in a grinder, which many thought they could not do. But in the final 2:24, after chipping back into the game by attacking the Aztecs' size, six of their final seven field goal attempts were 3-pointers.

A good portion of them were open looks, for what it's worth. But all of them missed, which is all that anyone will remember.

"I kind of felt like some of the shots were good shots," said Bellfield, who was responsible for one of the misfires. "I don't think it was a bad decision at all."

Making UNLV's failure to close the game out even more perplexing was that it had pinned SDSU's offense to the mat for the game's final 10 minutes.

Sophomore guard James Rahon, who started in place of the injured Chase Tapley, put away a layup with 9:50 left in the game. After that, a Rahon 3-pointer with 4:48 left was the Aztecs' only made field goal.

SDSU answered time and time again from the free throw line, going 9-of-10 from the stripe as a team after Willis had given UNLV the lead.

"This team is definitely deep, and we went deep into the bench, played without Tim and Chase, Billy fouled out, players had to step up today," said SDSU guard D.J. Gay. "It does show that we have a variety of weapons on this team and we can win in different ways."

Gay was the steadying influence for SDSU all night, hitting clutch shot after clutch shot en route to a game-high 20 points. He also went 8-of-9 from the free throw line. The most important stat on his line, though, was the zero turnovers in 40 minutes played.

Star sophomore forward Kawhi Leonard had 14 points and 10 rebounds, giving him his fifth double-double in five career games against UNLV.

Willis led the Rebels with 13 points, while Bellfield added 12.

It was an off night for UNLV leading scorer Chace Stanback, though.

After having his best offensive night in MWC play on Wednesday with 24 points in the win at TCU, Stanback was held to five points on 2-of-8 shooting against SDSU. No one has bottled Stanback up quite like the Aztecs, as he's now 6-of-25 from the floor and 0-for-7 from deep against them this season.

UNLV as a team was 22-of-58 from the floor and 1-of-15 from 3-point territory. The Rebels are 2-of-33 from deep in two games against the Aztecs this season.

UNLV has now dropped four in a row to SDSU for the first time in their 51-game series, with the Aztecs holding the Rebels to fewer than 60 points in all four of them.

SDSU remains neck-and-neck with BYU in the driver's seat atop the MWC standings, but UNLV's postseason hopes took another hit in a spot where there was tons of ground to potentially be gained.

Earlier in the day, UNLV's postseason profile got a major boost when No. 13 Wisconsin — who the Rebels knocked off at home in November — defeated top-ranked Ohio State in Madison, Wisc. It opened a huge window of opportunity for the Rebels to take an even bigger step by gaining a marquee MWC win.

Instead, now, Lon Kruger's club enters the final five-game regular season stretch and subsequent MWC tournament with plenty of work left to do, then hope that it's enough.

UNLV will host Air Force at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, but then have a crucial two-game road swing involving trips to face Colorado State next Saturday, then New Mexico the following Wednesday.

Currently, CSU is alone in third place in the league at 7-3, thanks to a huge home victory over New Mexico on Saturday.

UNM and UNLV are tied in fourth, two games behind the Rams in the loss column.

In the race for the league's potential third bid to the NCAA tournament field behind BYU and SDSU, the Rebels have two small edges on both the Rams and Lobos: They will play the MWC tourney at home, and don't have to play the Cougars or Aztecs again. CSU and UNM each have two games left against the league heavyweights.

Still, to many, the fact that the Rebels are in this position is considered disappointing as they again meander through what's become familiar, pressure-packed February territory.

"Don't give up," Bellfield said of what he's learned from the similar situation in the past two seasons. "You've got to keep fighting, take it and keep playing."

Join the Discussion:

Check this out for a full explanation of our conversion to the LiveFyre commenting system and instructions on how to sign up for an account.

Full comments policy

Previous Discussion: 24 comments so far…

Comments are moderated by Las Vegas Sun editors. Our goal is not to limit the discussion, but rather to elevate it. Comments should be relevant and contain no abusive language. Comments that are off-topic, vulgar, profane or include personal attacks will be removed. Full comments policy.

  1. Good Luck To Rebels-Hope They make the tourney-Represent MWC! Aztecs are better this year-

  2. I'm never one to criticize Kruger, but the way this game ended offensively is baffling to me. We were trailing all game until finally our pressure defense (and the Aztecs foul trouble) seemed to wear the Aztecs down and allowed our guards and big men to aggressively get to the basket to get us back in the game. Then all of the sudden, after taking a 1 point lead, we finished out by missing 6(?) straight 3 pointers?

    To me, the "we just couldn't hit shots" excuse doesn't fly here, because at some point you have to start saying "we took really bad shots", which in my opinion is bad coaching as much as it is bad decision making by the players.

    Undersized players, playing a NBA style isolation, pick and roll, and drive-kick style offense WILL NOT WORK if you don't hit your perimeter shots.. We were what, 2-33 from 3 point range against the Aztecs in 2 games? Wow.

  3. I agree with you UNLV-123. At the last media timeout, Kruger should have been repeating himself over and over to take it the BASKET! With the foul trouble they were in we were either going to get a decent look at a layup or shooting freethrows. Instead, he sits there and watches them jack up three after three and none of them were even close. The rebs again beat themselves with poor coaching adjustments and bad shot selection in those final four minutes. Also, why this team continues to struggle at home baffles me as well. In our home losses to ucsb, csu, byu, and sdsu we've looked like the road team in our own building. I have never known a team who can shoot and play better on the road then in their own gym.

  4. Rebels are going to lose to CSU and official end their tournament hopes.

  5. "I kind of felt like some of the shots were good shots," said Bellfield, who was responsible for one of the misfires. "I don't think it was a bad decision at all."

    This tells the story. The Rebels don't know that they can't shoot from beyond the 3-point line. It is a very bad decision to do something that you aren't good at when you have the game in your pocket. They came back into the game by driving to the basket, making layups, and getting the aztecs into foul trouble. Then they all thought hey let's play into the aztecs hands by shooting threes at the end of the game so that they don't have to work to force us to miss the shot. There's a reason that you guys were open for 3-pointers at the end of the game, they wanted you to shoot it. When you're the worst team in the league at shooting the 3 then why wouldn't they let you.

    Frustrating watching that game slip away. I'd rather they lose by driving to the basket and getting blocked on every layup they tried. At least that would mean that SDSU would have had to work on defense to get the win.

  6. We just do not have guys who can make plays on a consistent basis. Most all of our guys have to be set up. All of the top 25 teams have at least 1 and many times two guys that when the offense breaks down, or the team does not play well they can carry you by making plays. SDSU certainly has two in Gay and Leonard. I do not know how many times Gay blew by Bellfield(who was atrocious...again, BTW did anyone see the great job Hawkins did on him? Tell me why we put Bellfield and Marshall back in to play him? Was it because they are so valuable offensively?), and Leonard while our guys did an excellent job on him can still get to the rim and make something positive happen. Tre is really the only one that has an overall offensive game and he has struggled this year. Everyone else has gaping holes in their offensive ability. Even Coach Tark's worst shooting teams could score a heck of alot better and more often than this group.

  7. "The Rebels were on the verge of beating the Aztecs in a grinder........"

    Say what? The Rebels had a 1 pt lead with 3 minutes to play.
    Great comeback, but they weren't exactly on the "verge of beating the Aztecs".

  8. It is about time someone says it like it is. I am so sick of hearing that the reason the Rebels are not successful is because they dont have a big man. Brice Massamba has the highest shooting percentage on the team. Look it up. Yesterday he completely dominated the game. He did everything. And in the last minutes of the game, his teammates ignored him like they have all season. No big man in the history of basketball could score if they dont get the ball. Brice has set up his teammates with the high screen all season. And when it comes time to get him the ball his teammates jack up a senseless 3. Massamba is one of the strongest bigmen in the conference. He is by far the best low post defender on the team. He is unselfish by helping out his team. When it comes time when he is wide open and calls for the ball, the game is on the line against the #6 team in the country... there goes the 3 pointer. Thomas is a head case with an attitude that is embarrassing, Lopez is doing well offensively but does not play defense. Massamba has been the dominant big man in most of the big games. But his teamates ignore him on the offensive end. Wake up Rebels, you have a great big man. Too bad you are too selfish to realize it.

  9. I posted this on the game log, but since that story seems to have disappeared:

    I was at the Mack and cannot understand how or why, after battling back by pushing the ball inside, and getting SDSU on the ropes foul-wise and offensively, the team starts throwing up threes for absolutely no reason. They pushed inside and played epic defense to take the lead, and then immediately switch gears to tossing up threes. Makes absolutely no sense. Tark would have pulled the first guy that tossed up a bad three after taking the lead on 12 straight inside points. That, and foul shooting is still weak.

    UNLV was absolutely on the verge of winning this game. They had the lead, the ball, and the momentum with about 3:00 to play. This was less a bad loss than a frustrating one. These guys are playing their hearts out and still losing. Really sucks.

  10. Let's give credit where it's due. SD was the better schooled, far better disciplined team even when they had to put marginal players into the game. They executed consistently and every player moved well without the ball, finding the open spots and making plays. Some observations:

    The Rebels got killed off the glass. A total lack of fundamental defense. No boxing out by our guys and the Aztecs enjoyed limitless second and third shot opportunities.

    Our guys looked like jumping beans on defense falling for every head fake, leaving their feet and allowing their opponent to blow by for a better shot or pass to a more open player.

    UNLV stinks at the free throw line. Improve your free throw percentage by half and you win this game.

    Is there an offensive game plan? No pick and roll, no backdoor, no cutters to the basket when the floor is spread.

    Of course, these are the most obvious transgressions. Lon Kruger is an old school coach and I'm certain he's preaching and teaching these basics. Which begs the question: When do our players get "it" and meld into a team?

  11. Given the circumstances at the end of the game, with White fouled out, Thomas handicapped by four fouls, and the fact we had been scoring inside and attacking the rim successfully up to the 3 minute mark, makes me blame Kruger almost completely for how those final 3 minutes played out with nothing but 3-point attempts thereafter. Oh yeah, throw in the detail that we were hitting our 3's just above 6% on the night. Kruger might be old, but he still has a lot to learn. Poor coaching gave that one away.

  12. If were such a terrible 3 point shooting team, why don't we play Q, Massamba, or Lopez at the same time. Q got a total of 11 minutes in this game. He plays 5 minutes then hits the bench for the rest of the half. How can any player adjust to this ridiculous substituting? I know deep in his mind he knows he made a huge mistake coming to UNLV. I actually feel sorry for him. He gets 14 and 10 against TCU then sits after the first 5 minutes of the half. Meanwhile Jasper keeps getting playing time along with Hawkins who can't score a lick.

  13. Patticcus I agree with you about Kruger's substitutions. I have no idea why he continues to give Jasper minutes. There is some type of bromance going on between him and Jasper. Jasper is one of the most worthless players in UNLV's history. He can't score, can't get to the basket, can't shoot from outside, he's slow, can't jump, is an average defender, and has no knees. Yet Lon continues to give him significant minutes. I give credit to Kruger for benching him but he needs to just put him at the end of the bench and ensure that he sees no minutes the rest of the season. For his career at UNLV he's averaged 6.4 ppg and 4.8 rpg. How he was a top 40 recruit coming out of high school and the 5th ranked point guard in the country is beyond me. The reason he transfered from Kentucky is because he sucked and wasn't getting any playing time.

  14. @ SMScom (Stephen Sanders)

    you know, the rebounding was 36 - 32 SDSU.. that doesn't sound like getting "killed" off the glass. they had 14 turn overs to our 7. 8 assists to their 7,

    i'll give you almost everything else.

  15. Frustrating loss to say the least. I totally after that is was a huge mistaken to end the game with 3 after 3.You have to admit, the shot Stanback took was a good shot. Wide open, rushed it a little, but you can't be too upset about that shot in isolation.
    But nit was the foul that got them back in the game in the first place by attacking the rim, then abandoning that gameplan as soon as you get the lead is beyond me. White fouled out, Thomas with 4 playing Matador defense, Carwell with a bum knee, and their back up was terrible. Tre was getting into the lane and Marshall can usually get to the lane as well.
    To say that they are a NIT team is a bit of a reach. Sure they'll be looking at a bad seed if they get swept by CSU (which is NOT a bad loss-top 50 team) plus lose to the NM at the pit. IF they win the rest of the Regular season games they are a solid 8 seed IMO. Lose to both CSU and UNM then they are a 11-12 seed. Lose another bad one and they are looking at the First Four/NIT.

  16. I agree with the poor coaching. Massamba had a good game, but you have to have either QT or Lopez in there who can score. QT had a good opening few minutes with strong rebounds and a couple blocks, then sits the rest of the half. Baffling.
    Sometimes I wonder if there is a memo from the front office to Kruger: Lose

  17. Second straight game against the Aztecs where UNLV outplayed them, only to lose because, let's face it, just not good in the clutch. Stanback was wide open and missed. My favorite play by far was Lopez's ball fake on White, man that was priceless. I'm keeping the game on my DVR just to see the look on White's face LOL. We have a good one in Lopez, let's hope coach Hill doesn't mess it up...

  18. It seems like most of us are in agreement that the Rebel strategy in the last 3 minutes looked wrong. I think I could hear every Las Vegan screaming "Drive it!" from my living room. I find it hard to believe that it was Kruger's strategy to shoot the threes (maybe I'm wrong). I believe that his strategy was to continue to drive it. I think our guys just couldn't put the plan into action. I give credit to a great team. The Aztecs just ended our run and stopped us from continuing to drive, and our guys coped by shooting ill-advised shots.

  19. Same result as last game. Our guys played real hard, but the shooting is just not there. SDSU always surprises with something. Free throws were their surprise this game. A couple 3's would have changed this game. We just need 1 good 3pt shooter and the game is completely different.

  20. I agree with teach5. Hard to believe that Kruger
    did not tell team to continue to work it inside. It is mental errors such as taking bad shots at inappropriate times, fouling on a three-point shot, making bad passes that really hurt Rebels. Rebs have the ability to beat SDSU but mental
    mistakes are killers.

  21. New Bracketology

    UNLV is a 9 seed

    RPI and SOS are strong. Every loss save UCSB are top 40 RPI.

  22. Q Thomas didn't play much because he obviously was intimidated inside. Bottom line though is that this team is an AWFUL shooting team and it was Kruger's responsibility to make sure what occurred the last 3 minutes didn't.
    Next years' team will be much better once we get Wallace back and Willis and Jasper are gone. Hopefully Grandy Glaze is the beast he is portrayed to be because this team needs some toughness.

  23. The loss of Shaw and Wallace are showing!

  24. Rankings wise, we're winning the majority of the games we're expected to and we're losing mainly to opponents we weren't expected to beat. It may not be what the team or our fans were hoping for, but it's reality. Losses to the #6 and #10 teams in the nation is nothing to scoff at.

    Most sports analysts and bracketology experts (take their information however you please) still have UNLV going to the NCAA tournament. I've even read that we could still drop games at CSU and at NM, and we'd still probably be okay if we win out the other games, because of our RPI and SOS.

    Although I'd rather not test that theory out, it's encouraging. Put the past behind us and let's move forward. We still have a chance to redeem ourselves come MWC Tournament time.