Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2011 | 9:43 p.m.
Las Vegas Sun reporters Ryan Greene and Ray Brewer discuss the UNLV basketball team's upset loss Wednesday to Colorado State, 78-63. The Rebels are 3-5 overall since winning their initial 11 games to open the season. Can things get turned back around?
It took the opening four minutes Wednesday during the UNLV basketball team’s 78-63 loss to visiting Colorado State to realize the Rebels were in trouble.
And not just for tonight.
Four turnovers, uninspired play and confusion in the halfcourt offense summarized a terrible start. In reality, they have been hit and miss with their play the last five weeks, ever since they let Boise State hang around in a two-point victory in early December that left most shaking their heads.
Still, after the Rebels lost two weeks ago to rival BYU at home, I argued the setback was just one game and there was no reason to hit the panic button. That was a pretty generous observation considering the Rebels blew a 10-point lead and lost by 12 points.
Now, after an awful performance against Colorado State, it’s officially time to start worrying. What seemed like a promising season after the Rebels won their initial 11 games and reached No. 20 in the national polls, has transgressed into a season where a middle-of-the pack finish seems likely in Mountain West Conference and a once-guaranteed NCAA Tournament berth could be in jeopardy.
After the hot start, UNLV has posted a 3-5 record, including three losses in the friendly confines of the Thomas & Mack Center. In two of those defeats, against Colorado State and UC Santa Barbara, the Rebels were a double-digit betting favorite.
Getting back on track might be easier said than done. After all, the Rebels have a 2-3 record in the Mountain West and continue to be one the league’s worst shooting teams.
In five Mountain West games, the Rebels are 19-of-91 on 3-pointers — the 21-percent on 3s ranks ninth in the nine-team league. Against Colorado State, they had 14 turnovers and just 13 assists.
If it weren’t for contributions from sophomore guard Anthony Marshall, who again shined Wednesday with 14 points in 33 minutes, the loss would have been even worse. Marshall’s reverse dunk in the first half was downright impressive and his fearless style of play needs to start carrying over to his teammates.
Here are three more observations from Wednesday’s game.
1) Fix what’s wrong with Derrick Jasper:: Jasper, a senior guard who is one of the Rebels’ most versatile player, scored just four points and had five turnovers against Colorado State. In league games, he’s only scored 20 points and clearly hasn’t been the offensive leader the Rebels need him to be. When Jasper is at his best, he’s a vital part of the offense, an unselfish player who is known for being a great facilitator and active rebounder.
2) Figure out Tre'Von's role:: Guard Tre’Von Willis missed his second straight game with a knee injury Wednesday, but when he is healthy, the preseason all-league selection takes minutes away from Marshall — who has arguably been UNLV’s best player. Willis missed the first two games of the season while serving a suspension and has struggled finding his role since returning. Make no doubt about it, he is a talented player the Rebels need contributions from to be successful — just not at the expense of Marshall. Willis averaged 17 points per game last year and gives UNLV a veteran presence in the backcourt who isn’t afraid to have the ball in his hands with the game on the line. A role off the bench, playing 20 to 25 minutes per game, might be a perfect solution. Whatever is decided, Willis can’t take minutes away from Marshall and needs to accept his secondary role.
3) Colorado State makes a statement: Ryan Greene, who covers the Rebels and Mountain West for the Sun, had Colorado State at No. 4 in his league power rankings three weeks ago. The Rams more than validated his selection tonight, proving their 13-5 overall record is the real deal. While the win was Colorado State’s first against one of the league’s top-tier teams, it definitely won’t be their last. The Rams played with confidence from start to finish in never trailing. And when UNLV tied the game late in the first half, the Rams went on a 5-0 run to rebuild their lead. Give coach Tim Miles credit for building his program into a winner. They were sharp offensively, proved to be more aggressive on both ends of the court than UNLV and played an inspired style of ball. Nevertheless, I was impressed.