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October 18, 2017

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Ray Brewer: From the Pressbox

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Instant Analysis: Rebels pushed around, embarassed in tourney loss

Poor shooting and defense turns into ugly NCAA appearance, loss to Illinois

With less than two minutes remaining in the first half of the UNLV basketball team’s NCAA Tournament opener against Illinois, junior forward Chace Stanback aggressively drove the ball to the basket and scored while being fouled.

He proceeded to convert the 3-point play, but it was too little too late as the Rebels were already trailing by 20 points. Yes, it was that bad, especially on the offensive end.

UNLV went seven minutes without scoring a point in the first half, ultimately surrendering a 15-0 run during the drought in losing 73-62. In a nutshell, it was an ugly and embarrassing end to the season.

Illinois outscored the Rebels 32-13 in the final 13 minutes of the first half, with plays such as Stanback’s dribble-drive a rarity. Instead, Anthony Marshall heaved a pair of air balls on 3-point attempts, Justin Hawkins had a 3-pointer hit off the side of the backboard and the Rebels only made 7 of 28 first-half shots.

After making their initial two 3-pointers, the Rebels missed their next 10 attempts. Again, they settled for the outside shot, a problem that has plagued them all year. For the game, they only made 7 of 23 of their 3-pointers — a number that looks better than it was because of a few makes late.

Plain and simple, they were lost offensively and didn’t execute. You would hope the game plan included more than waiting around the 3-point arch and launching long-range shot after long-range shot. But then again, relying on the 3-pointer has long been what the Rebels live and die on. That’s a tough strategy when there aren’t many pure shooters on the roster.

But the shooting woes are nothing new. In previous games this year, however, they were able to overcome the cold shooting with a tenacious defensive effort and never-say-die attitude.

Against Illinois, they looked like a deer stuck in the headlights, completely scared after a bigger and faster Illinois squad proclaimed its authority from the opening tip. The Rebels were pushed around. They were out-muscled, out-hustled and had one of their worst defensive performances of the season, as Illinois made 57 percent of its shots.

There will be no run this year, with the Rebels falling in their first tournament game for the second straight season. And, please, don’t comment under this story that at least they made the tourney field. The expectations are higher than that.

Illinois seemed to be better at every position, especially at point guard where Demetri McCamey was easily the best player on the court. He had 12 of his 17 points in the first half and added seven assists. More importantly, he controlled the pace of the game, with UNLV frequently getting beat up and down the court. When was the last time that happened?

UNLV didn’t score a basket on the fast break until Anthony Marshall came up with a steal near midcourt with 14 minutes to play and hammered home a breakaway dunk. Again, when was the last time that happened to the Runnin’ Rebels?

The Rebels had been solid defensively most of the year, using that pressure to create easy baskets. The pressure against Illinois was virtually non-existent.

The Rebels, which had won 10 of 13 games entering, played one of their worst games of the season in what was supposed to be an evenly matched contest. Illinois certainly didn’t look like a team that had faded in the last month, having had lost 10 of 16 games.

That is why the defeat is so shocking. It’s not the fact UNLV lost, but the manner in which they were defeated — being absolutely steamrolled on national television. The game was seemingly over before it began.

Here’s how bad it got: With about 16 minutes remaining in the second half, color commentator Steve Kerr told viewers they could turn away to a more competitive game. It’s safe to say UNLV’s national reputation probably took a hit tonight, too.

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