UNLV notches sloppy 49-42 victory over Air Force, sets up huge Saturday clash

Rebels survive scare from Falcons, head off to face Colorado State in rematch with major postseason implications


Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV forward Carlos Lopez dunks on Air Force during Tuesday’s game at the Thomas & Mack Center. UNLV won the game 49-42.

UNLV vs. Air Force Basketball

Air Force forward Tom Fow picks up a loose ball while Air Force guard Evan Washington and UNLV forward Quintrell Thomas are tangled up on the floor during the first half of Tuesday's game at the Thomas & Mack Center. Launch slideshow »

UNLV vs. Air Force

KSNV coverage of UNLV vs. Air Force basketball game, Feb. 15, 2011.

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Well, at least it's over.

In what's become a recent tradition of sorts, the annual UNLV-Air Force meeting at the Thomas & Mack Center was slow, sloppy and forgettable.

The Rebels came out of it on the right side, downing the Falcons 49-42, but it was far from an inspiring performance as Lon Kruger's club now turns its focus to Saturday's monster of a game at Colorado State.

"All wins are good. We'll start with that," Kruger said afterward. "It wasn't easy, wasn't very pretty. Guys did a great job defensively in the second half, struggled all night offensively.

"Anything that wasn't good offensively, we basically were. Sluggish is probably a kind word, so we'll take it."

UNLV's offensive struggles of late continued with a 14-of-42 performance from the floor and a 2-of-14 showing from 3-point range.

There were a couple of reasons for the problems early on. One was the mixture of zone defenses Air Force (10-14 overall, 4-7 Mountain West) threw their way. UNLV (19-7, 7-5) also looked a little emotionally drained still form Saturday's tough 63-57 home loss to No. 6 San Diego State.

It all contributed to the Falcons taking a 23-22 halftime lead on the Rebels, leaving an uneasy feeling throughout the sparse, subdued crowd at the Mack.

"There were a lot of mixed emotions," sophomore guard Justin Hawkins said of the mood at intermission. "You could tell how everyone was so up and down throughout the locker room. We just knew that we had to pick it up individually and as a team."

It took a few minutes for that to actually happen, though.

UNLV wouldn't get the lead back for good until Tre'Von Willis dropped in a second-chance bucket with 9:14 left to play. It came in the middle of a 13-0 run that stretched out for more than 13 minutes.

For as rough as the Rebels were offensively, the Falcons were simply worse.

They only managed five points in the first 16 minutes of the second half. Jeff Reynolds' club, which also pushed UNLV to the brink in Colorado Springs, Colo., a month ago before dropping a 64-52 decision, was 16-of-44 from the floor.

"It's always an ugly game when we play Air Force," Hawkins added. "It was very sluggish."

UNLV finished Air Force off at the free throw line down the stretch. Willis, who didn't score his first point until there was just over 10 minutes left to play, went 9-of-10 from the free throw line in the second half, helping him score a game-high 13 points.

The Rebels also had 15 turnovers across from only nine assists, and their 49 points tied a season low.

Willis was the only Rebel to score in double figures in a game that will likely be forgotten pretty quickly.

The short-term memory also comes into play with the team's most important remaining regular season game now on the horizon.

UNLV is in a three-team race with Colorado State (17-7, 7-3) and New Mexico (17-8, 5-5) for third place in the league. CSU is at TCU on Wednesday night at 5 p.m., while UNM has a tougher task in hand to stay in the race, playing at SDSU at 7:30 p.m.

The Rebels and Rams have the two most compelling profiles in the Mountain West behind SDSU and BYU for NCAA tournament bids, and if the league only gets three teams in, Saturday's result could end up holding a lot of weight.

If CSU wins, it'll have a solid-looking season sweep of UNLV on its résumé and would leave the Rebels at 0-6 against its three toughest league foes.

If Kruger & Co. can get the win, it will help erase the 78-63 loss they suffered at home to the Rams on Jan. 19. It was one of UNLV's uglier defeats this season not just because it came at home, but due to the Rebels' admitted lack of fight in the contest.

Saturday's game will tip at 4 p.m. at Moby Arena, which is quickly becoming one of the MWC's tougher road venues.

"They got us one time early on in league play. We've just got to return the favor over there," Hawkins said. "I think this time we're going to be mentally prepared for it because we know Colorado State is a good team and they'll bring everything they've got at us."

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  1. The old "run & gun" games of the 80's were much more enjoyable from a fan point of view. I'm not referring to the NBA style of purely man-to-man defense and finesse but rather to the ACC Lefty Dreisel style like the old University of MD Terps where Lefty tried to build the UCLA of the East.

  2. When are we going to understand how to attack a zone defense. This was our 26th game of the season and at times we still look clueless against it. At times we penetrate and have good ball movement and other times we sit there like we've never seen a zone before. I guess it's frustrating this far along in the season when we know teams will be throwing a zone at us, but we still don't know what to do.

  3. Laughable. This team will lose by 30 on saturday. This is the worst shooting team I have ever seen at UNLV. I'd rather watch a girls freshman high school game..............

  4. Care to put a wedger on that at the sports books rose?

  5. Wager.....typo, sorry.

  6. UNLV should reimburse the fans who attended this game from the Rebel Athletic Fund...yikes. CSU must be licking their chops right now. Finger is hovering over the panic button, because this team looks more and more like they want to play in the NIT

  7. Look at the empty seats in the photos. Talk about fair weather fans. I'd hate to see it when the Rebels actually have a losing season. *crickets..crickets*

  8. With you rose. How can anyone say that this team should beat CSU? What have the Rebs shown us that would indicate they are capable of beating a team that smacked us by 15 at home? I am so tired of hearing our guys say that they have no more room for error so they are going to fight hard. How many times have they said that after a sluggish performance? This team is all hat and no cattle. Time to quit patting these guys on the back Lon and start kicking them in the tail.

  9. I'm sure the fact that it was a later start on a Tuesday night had absolutely nothing to do with it, right brent? Or the fact that we were playing Air Force.

    The fact is they spent all last week pushing and pushing the SDSU game and pleading for fans to show up and sell out the place. And that happened. The fans came through and were treated to a huge disappointment. Regardless of what the records say or the little number next to SDSU in the polls, the Rebels threw that game away by making stupid decisions at the end of the game and many fans, myself included, left feeling completely deflated. Its not surprising that attendance dropped dramatically only three days later.

    All of that being said, I had a sick kid to take care of, or we would have been there.

  10. Sometimes you just have to win ugly and that is what the Rebels did last night. Good teams at all levels find a way to win. It happens in the NBA, NFL, and in all collegiate sports...teams have an off night but manage to win. Give the Rebels credit for winning a "must win" game. They will beat CSU on Saturday.

  11. I will take CSU and give the points- no matter what the spread is. No such thing as a sure bet- but this is as close as it gets.
    Never bet on a team with no heart.....or brains.

  12. I'll admit that it was tough cheering for the Rebels last night at the game, but it's tough watching this team consistently struggle against the zone. As Rebel32 noted, UNLV shows flashes of brillance at times, but then reverts to dribbling-pulling up offense with everyone standing around. What kills me is when a big has great position under the basket, and Willis/Stanback refuse to give him the ball.

    As much as I like J-Hawk, the dude just has no offensive game. He might be a great defender, but he gives up too much size and poses absolutely zero threat to shoot the 3. And what is going on with Kruger's rotation? Thomas played zero minutes in the second half, but Lopez/Massamba played with 4 fouls? Someone please explain that to me.

    Finally, someone send a memo that the Rebels suck at shooting 3's (that's you Willis/Marshall). The only people that should have a green light to shoot from outside are Chace and Oscar. Too bad we'll likely lose Shaz (Gorman) to Kansas, as he's a better shooter than anyone else on the team right now.

  13. Rebels are ranked 315 in three point pct. This is the worst shooting team I have ever seen. The Rebels sure are missing Hoffman this year.

  14. 30 points aj, HA! Laughable, I hope you take fastcameron up on his bet.

    It was an ugly game, and it's always an ugly game when you have to play/watch AF's style of play. It's very frustrating when you are used to fast play, and have to wait around for 34 seconds before a shot and it's even more frustrating if they make the shot after waiting. Fair weather fans indeed, always have been. I'll look forward to watching the game vs C-st. coming up, and you know they are gonna bring their whole house. This will be a test of adversity and leadership heading into the final games of the season.

  15. Rebels will get crushed at CSU. They don't know how to play organized basketball other than an occasional full court press. I agree, after all these games, we STILL don't know how to attack a zone defense. Which, in our post season NIT tourney, I'm sure we'll see lots of and thus, get eliminated in the first round. It all comes down to coaching, or lack thereof. I still can't believe the SDSU three point attempts AFTER we got the lead by attacking the basket. Ridiculous. The season at this point is pretty much over. We're just not that good, and to be candid, really underachieved so far this year. Losing games at home by the margins we have is unacceptable.

  16. The season is NOT over. 68 teams get into the tournament. 1 wins it all. There are something like 350 D1 teams, and to get into the tournament doesn't just mean you show up. Are we reeling lately, sure, but the season isn't over by any means. The glass is half full fellas. We knew the AF game was going to be ugly going in just from looking at the first game.

    The team isn't giving up. Why don't you help support them going forth because they are very much still in the NCAA picture instead of cracking them and writing them off?

  17. It's very easy to be frustrated watching this team. How many years have they gone out and killed it early in the season then suck it up during conference play? Killing me.
    That being said, there are too many fair-weathered fans. It shouldn't matter what night the game is on or who the opponent, there should be 75-80% capacity for every game.
    I grew up in Las vegas and went to practically every game since I was 12. I sat through the Rollie years, the Grgrich experiment, the Bayno years, and had Spoonball when I went there for undergrad. UNLV basketball is the one sports identity that Vegas has, yet still gets sparse attendance. I just don't get it. Too many California transplants I guess.
    But I must say last night's game was just awful.

  18. Anyone else notice that confidence is a huge factor with this team? We had a red hot start this season until losses to Louisville and UCSB and we've struggled ever since. The guys seem more nervous at home and haven't shot well anywhere except the empty TCU gym.

    I think maybe we forget most of the team is 19-20 years old and still trying to gain confidence in the college game. Our senior "leaders" are Tre who has just now started to regain his form from last year, and Jasper who has almost disappeared. So what exactly do you guys expect? Winning in college basketball is not just about coaching and talent.. It's about handling pressure and overcoming adversity. If you think about it, bad shooting and the inability to put teams away are two major symptoms of a lack of confidence, and the two major things the rebels have struggled with in conference play. Until they get back to playing with the confidence and swagger from the beginning of the year, we're going to continue to struggle.

  19. I know the season isn't over yet but this has got to be the worst teams that Kruger has put together since he's been at UNLV. I won't lump the 04-05 teams in there because those weren't completely his teams. He put this team together and they are border line pathetic.

    I've never seen a worse UNLV offense than this one. The sad thing about it is that as the season goes on they seem to be getting worse. I don't see any improvement in this team. They never make adjustments and continue to do the same thing every game. Even though they are shooting something like 28% from the 3 point line they still continue to shoot from there because they have no idea how to attack the paint or play against a zone. It's like they keep believing that they will shoot their way out of a slump. They have no inside game, no good big men, no go to players, no leadership, and no chemistry.

    It is really hard to watch them this season. Every game I watch I feel like pulling my hair out because they continue to make the same mistakes. I love Kruger but he truly is clueless on how to run an effective offense. And that's not just from this year either. Ever since he's been at UNLV he has never had any good big men or athletes that can get to the paint. His teams always rely on 3 point/outside shooting. I would just love to see them run some pick and rolls (which was working with Massamba on Sat against SDSU until they decided to start shooting 3s again), run some players off of screens and set up some shots, get it in to the post and make quick moves instead of waiting for the double team, get some rebounders under the basket after the first shot so that they could have more second chance shots (which they never do, it's usually one and done with them), get it into the post and run some players into the paint off screens, whatever, just do something. Instead all they do is pass it around the perimeter until there is an open shot, or they penetrate the paint so slowly that they get double teamed and they get caught making a turn over or kick it out for another 3 pointer.

    I think this team could be in some real trouble Saturday against CSU. CSU is going to be motivated to beat UNLV at home because this is one of the rare season where they have a true chance to get to the Tournament. They are going to be motivated and have a huge advantage playing at home at 5,000 ft elevation with everything on the line. Plus they have the momentum with the way they destroyed UNLV at home last time.

    If UNLV loses Saturday I think it's safe to say the season is over and that UNLV will be dancing in the NIT. The only way they make it to the Tournament if they lose Saturday would be for them to run the table in the MWC tourney. Either that or at least make it to the MWC tourny finals with at least one win over BYU or SDSU. But the way UNLV has played at home this year it is looking less likely they will win the tournament.

  20. We need to win at CSU, or we are NIT bound. The conference tourney will be our last hope. Gonna be a tough game on Saturday and our shooting better be a hell of a lot better than this. Brutal game last night...just brutal.

  21. For those of us that work, the weekday games are difficult to get too. I get off at 5:30, have an hour and a half drive home. So I have to make the choice between my family or going to a game. The 7:30 start times help and I try to make some of the games, but the earlier starts make it impossible for me to attend most weekday games.

    I don't think Coach can be completely blamed for the shotting this year. How does one predict that our best 3-point shooter in Kendall Wallace blows out his knee in the offseason, our 2nd best shooter saw his senior season go "Up in Smoke" and I don't think any expected DJ to disappear.

  22. CSU is not the last chance for a Tourney bid. If they splt CSU and UNM, they still have a chance since they'll get SDSU and BYU again in the tourney. Get to the championship game and they have a top ten win. Their #'s are still good despite everything. The bubble is REALLY soft this year, especially with 4 extra at larges.
    That being said, they sure don't look like a tourney team.

  23. Louis G,

    Derrick Jasper was never there to begin with. Jasper has always been overrated and has never really done anything to prove that he was a good player. I think everyone just looks at his high school rankings and wants to believe he was a good player, which he never was. I don't know how Rivals ranked him the # 38 player in the country coming out of high school and the 6th ranked point guard? So far this season he is averaging 6 ppg and 4.6 rpg. Last season he average 6.7 ppg and 4.9 rpg even before his knee injury. For his career at UNLV he has averaged 6.3 ppg and 4.7 rpg. I wouldn't say that those are good numbers. Even before he came to UNLV he only average 4 ppg and 4.5 rpg at Kentucky. Over his last seven games he's scored a whopping 11 points!

    I just think everyone needs to stop giving this kid more credit then he deserves. I will be happy when he graduates and leaves the program because he has contributed next to nothing.