Thursday, Feb. 16, 2012 | 8:45 p.m.
UNLV’s first practice in the Mendenhall Center was also one of its most difficult of the year.
Credit that to TCU.
Two days after the Rebels’ most frustrating loss of the season, they got back on the court, looking to put that debacle behind them and prepare for Saturday’s 10 a.m. tipoff at New Mexico (21-4, 7-2) on CBS. Because of the first-place Lobos’ victory at San Diego State on Wednesday night, a UNLV victory on Saturday would put the Rebels back in first with the tiebreaker in their back pocket.
Sophomore forward Mike Moser left Thursday’s practice dripping with sweat more than he often does at the end of games. After watching the tape of Tuesday’s 102-97 overtime loss at TCU, Moser and the Rebels (22-5, 6-3) didn’t lack for motivation.
“It was real disgusting, lazy,” Moser said. “We just had the wrong attitude once we had a big lead. … I guess we thought we were better than we were for a little bit, thought we didn’t have to play anymore.”
UNLV led by as much as 18 points in the second half and by 15 with just less than 10 minutes to play.
“We had the game won,” Moser said. “It was all said and done in our mind.”
That mentality led to their downfall. The Horned Frogs’ Hank Thorns, a Las Vegas native, led the comeback with a career-high 32 points and TCU outworked UNLV for 19 offensive rebounds.
“It’s the most disappointed that I’ve been this year in terms of our effort, and we have a stat to prove it,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said. “We all shared in giving up 19 offensive rebounds, from the coaching staff to the players.”
Just a couple more defensive rebounds and UNLV probably would have survived. Of course, you could also say just a couple more missed shots from Thorns or a couple more Rebels making baskets would have made the difference.
The bottom line is that UNLV didn’t play good enough defense to win.
“We’ve always been able to rely on our defense and rebounding,” junior forward Quintrell Thomas said. “I would consider that equivalent to a running game in football because that’s one thing that you can always count on. But when we didn’t have that going and we weren’t making shots, and put on top of that Hank Thorns hitting the 3s that he made — it was just a perfect storm.”
For much of the game, making shots wasn’t a problem for UNLV. At one point in the second half, the Rebels were shooting better than 70 percent from the field, and they finished at 53 percent.
UNLV averages the eighth-most points in the country (80.1), so offensive success is rarely an issue, and after digesting the loss, Rice said that may have been part of the reason for its downfall.
“One of the dangers for us is that we have become very good offensively, and sometimes the mistake we can make … is that we think we can go into games and outscore people,” Rice said. “Sometimes our offense comes so easy that we forget about the defensive end.”
They didn’t forget about it at Mendenhall. Moser estimated that the up-tempo practice consisted of about 50 percent defense, 40 percent rebounding, and the other 10 percent was for running. There was certainly some offense worked in there, but the point was clear: UNLV has to improve in those areas. The Rebels’ defense ignites their offense, and rebounding controls games. They need to excel in both to have a chance on Saturday.
The new surroundings gave a feeling of a new beginning, which matches the team’s new opportunity to reclaim first place. The sweat on the ground gave a feeling of determination, which matches their mentality.
UNLV has yet another chance to control the Mountain West, and there’s only one way to do that and close the book on the Rebels’ nightmare at TCU.
“You go and beat New Mexico,” Moser said.