Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013 | 11:40 p.m.
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ALBUQUERQUE — Here’s the number most people will probably point to, the one that will be remembered from No. 24 UNLV’s 65-60 loss at No. 25 New Mexico: 4-for-5.
That’s the Rebels’ total free-throw attempts for the game, and it all came in the first half. In the final 20 minutes, a back-and-forth affair that saw both sides squander several chances to either pull away or pull back into it, UNLV (13-3, 0-1) didn’t make one trip to the free-throw line.
The Lobos (14-2, 1-0) were 15-for-29 from the line, a disparity that didn’t look nearly as bad until they took 14 trips in the final 3:06. Had New Mexico hit more than six of those final shots, this game wouldn’t have been close. It didn’t, and so it was, with the Rebels twice going down the court down 63-60 with a chance to either extend or tie the game.
People will look at that 4-for-5, or the zero in the second half, and call that the key to the game, and there’s no doubt it was a big factor. Despite it all, though, the Rebels had the game in their hands multiple times and came up short.
From 1:13 remaining to 41 seconds, UNLV gave up two offensive rebounds that led to a pair of Lobos’ points. And in those possessions with the score at 63-60, the Rebels missed an open 3 and turned the ball over. Anthony Bennett didn’t touch the ball either time.
“Our first look is always to go for a two, and if the two is taken away and we can get a wide-open shot then we’ll skip it,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said. “And one thing all game long was the way they double-teamed Anthony Bennett. When we moved the ball (out of the post) we got wide-open shots, we just didn’t make quite enough of them.”
Fouls played a role from the outset, and it wasn’t an accident. The Lobos are aware of how important Bennett is to the Rebels, so they double-teamed him constantly and attacked him at both ends.
New Mexico’s Alex Kirk, who finished with a game-high 23 points, dunked on Bennett with 2:54 left in the first half and then was called for a technical, most likely for staring down and saying something to Bennett. The play only seemed to pump Kirk up more, though, as he went after Bennett on the next possession and drew the freshman forward’s second foul.
“That worked to our advantage,” said UNM’s Kendall Williams, whose deep 3-pointer put the Lobos ahead for good with 2:15 remaining in the game.
Bennett was a force to start the second half, but with 14:14 remaining he was called for his fourth foul on a charge call. Right or wrong, players understand that it’s more difficult to get the calls in your favor on the road.
“You get some calls at home where you don’t on the road,” Marshall said. “… There are going to be nights like that. You can’t let that dictate the game.”
Bennett exited with the Rebels up 45-41 and returned with them down 52-51 and 7:39 on the clock. He went 0-for-2 with a turnover the rest of the way, finishing with 12 points on 5-for-10 shooting with six rebounds. Also scoring 12 was Khem Birch, who eventually fouled out during that flurry of whistles in the final three minutes. Mike Moser shot 1-for-6 in 14 minutes in his second return from an elbow injury.
With so much attention paid to Bennett, UNLV looked to pass out of the post and find open shooters. While Bennett didn’t record any assists he did have a few passes that set up the pass before a made shot.
On one possession in the first half, Bennett quickly kicked out of a double team, and two quick passes around the perimeter later Justin Hawkins hit an open 3-pointer for a six-point lead. It was the best example of the Rebels’ taking the opportunity the defense gave them.
UNLV finished 8-for-23 behind the three-point line, and Rice said he was fine with that many attempts because most of them were open looks. Even Katin Reinhardt's shot in the final minute looked open, though it wasn’t the first option. That possession started out of a timeout with 25.4 seconds left.
“We felt like we had a lot of time on the clock so we wanted to get a quick two and play the foul game, try to manage the clock,” Marshall said, “but I saw a little opening and Katin was wide open. I trust him. He’s made big shots all his life.”
The Rebels fouled after Reinhardt’s miss with 13.5 seconds left and got another chance courtesy of Hugh Greenwood’s two missed free throws. Hawkins grabbed the rebound and pushed it to Marshall.
Rice said the call was for a spacing play similar to the previous one that would give Marshall the same options to either get it inside for a look to extend the game or a kick-out to an open shooter. Before the Rebels could get set up, though, Marshall drove toward the basket and into a blanket of Lobos defenders.
Williams (11 points) got the steal and Tony Snell (13 points) hit two free throws to ice the game. Marshall finished with seven points, seven rebounds, nine assists and five turnovers, including two in the final 2:22.
UNLV gave up 11 offensive rebounds and was outscored 11-5 on second-chance points, which is another number to consider. It’s hard to win without getting to the free-throw line. It’s also hard to win when the Rebels continually fail to make game-winning plays on the road.
“We didn’t do a very good job of overcoming the foul trouble that we were in,” Rice said. “There were some toughness plays that we needed to make down the stretch. We just can’t give up offensive rebounds on free throws like we did.”
No one number tells the story of this game, because it’s all too familiar a performance from UNLV to credit it to one stat.
The number Rice preferred to focus on is 15, the number of regular-season conference games remaining. This is not going to be the only time the whistles don’t go their way or the only time they have the ball in their hands with the game on the line.
“My biggest concern about tonight was we needed to make more plays with toughness,” Rice said. “Get loose balls, get defensive rebounds, block out on free throws; I think tonight was about needing to win more 50/50 balls than anything else.”
The Rebels return home Saturday to face Air Force then play at San Diego State and Colorado State. This was never going to be an easy stretch. The key is whether UNLV learns from it in ways it failed to last season.