UNLV basketball:

Rebels not up to task of taking down the Lobos in tournament title game

New Mexico won its second straight Mountain West tournament title by outplaying UNLV, which now awaits its NCAA Tournament placement


Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

New Mexico guard Tony Snell poses for photos with teammates after the Lobos defeated 63-56 in the Mountain West Conference Tournament championship game Saturday, March 16, 2013 at the Thomas & Mack Center.

MWC Championship: UNLV vs. New Mexico

New Mexico head coach Steve Alford finishes cutting down the net after the Lobos defeated UNLV 63-56 to win the Mountain West Conference Tournament championship game Saturday, March 16, 2013 at the Thomas & Mack Center. Launch slideshow »

It’s tough to say what moment from Saturday’s Mountain West tournament title game was worse for UNLV fans. Was it Tony Snell’s game-clinching 3-pointer with just more than a minute to play? Kendall Williams’ exclamation point, a 360-degree dunk?

Or maybe it was Steve Alford, the Mountain West Coach of the Year and one of the most hated sports figures in Las Vegas, cutting down one Thomas & Mack Center net and wearing it around the court and into the postgame press conference for a second straight year.

Then again, it could be none of those. New Mexico (29-5) just did what it was supposed to do; it was the Rebels (25-9) who didn’t hold up their end in a 63-56 loss that could have NCAA Tournament seeding implications.

The "Selection Show" is Sunday at 3 p.m. on CBS. While the Lobos likely locked up a 2 seed or better, UNLV may have played itself down to a 7 seed, although a 6 is still in play. If the Rebels are unhappy with their seed or location, they have only themselves to blame for not capitalizing on Saturday’s opportunity.

“The thing that was most disappointing,” said UNLV coach Dave Rice, “was that our ball movement was not nearly as good as it’s been.”

That manifested itself in some bizarre numbers for the Rebels. Freshman Anthony Bennett came into the game on a tear — 42 points on 16-for-22 shooting in the tournament — and continued it early on, scoring 13 of UNLV’s 15 points before the 12-minute mark. Then he scored one basket the rest of the way as Cameron Bairstow, Chad Adams and even Williams took turns shadowing Bennett.

“That wasn’t coaching,” Alford said. “That’s who our team is. That’s a great credit to our players.”

Then there was this: Tournament MVP Snell, who finished with 21 points, and regular season MVP Williams combined for 33 points on 22 shots. UNLV counterparts Bryce Dejean-Jones and Katin Reinhardt scored 30 on 32 attempts.

All of those empty possessions made keeping pace with the efficient Lobos difficult, yet there the Rebels were down only three with 2:07 remaining. Dejean-Jones hit back-to-back 3-pointers while doing his best to provide UNLV with much-needed scoring.

Once Bennett vanished, the Rebels took turns trying to lead the offense. Reinhardt had a few good possessions but his 4-for-16 overall shooting negated that.

“No one man is going to beat a team like that,” said Anthony Marshall, who had eight points and six assists. “There might be spurts where somebody has a hot hand and you just try to figure out who that is.”

After Bennett’s initial run the Rebels’ hands were all cold. No Rebel shot better than 50 percent, including Mike Moser, who completed a wretched tournament for his shooting (4-for-19 overall) with an 0-for-4.

“I’ve said many times that he’s still not 100 percent,” Rice said. “There are still plays that he can’t make; finishing around the basket or some rebounds that he typically gets that are out of his area that he can’t quite get to.”

When the deficit was still at three the Rebels forced a Snell turnover and had a chance to get it to one or tie the game. Not surprisingly they went for the 3-point attempt and Reinhardt’s good look at the rim missed.

What followed was the aforementioned Snell dagger; your view of how he got open probably depends on your rooting interest.

With Dejean-Jones guarding him in the corner, Snell ran the Rebel off a screen in the paint set by Alex Kirk. The Lobos made their living with screens like this.

“They’re probably the best screening team in our league,” Rice said. “They’re very, very good at that.”

However, plenty of them looked like moving picks. This particular one was debatable, but Dejean-Jones spent so much time trying to sell the foul and then looking at the ref that he took himself out of the play, allowing Snell, already on fire from deep, to run free to the top of the key.

“They kept trying to stay close on me,” Snell said of the Rebels. “I tried to stop and give a little bump to give me some space to run off the screens.”

New Mexico hit the same number of 3s as UNLV (9-for-31) in 12 fewer attempts. And despite dominating the offensive glass by 10 the Rebels only scored one more second-chance point.

Click to enlarge photo

UNLV guard Bryce Dejean-Jones is defended by New Mexico guard Tony Snell while taking a three-point shot during their Mountain West Conference Tournament championship game Saturday, March 16, 2013 at the Thomas & Mack Center. New Mexico won 63-56.

The best example of that wasteful offense was on one possession early in the second half. It went: Bennett missed 3-pointer, Quintrell Thomas offensive rebound, Reinhardt missed 3, Thomas rebound, Reinhardt missed jumper, Thomas rebound, Bennett turnover.

“(We’ll) get back to playing more efficient, better offense,” Rice said.

The Rebels’ chance to do that will be Thursday or Friday in one of eight cities across the country against a currently unknown opponent. That’s the bright side to the defeat: UNLV was already in the field of 68. They will go dancing while looking for their first NCAA Tournament victory since 2008.

When adversity hits again — and whether it’s the first game or the second, it will — how will UNLV respond? The Rebels know how to finish the phrase “Live by the 3…” and a good game plan can’t be overly dependent on Dejean-Jones or Reinhardt catching fire from outside. They’re proven to be far too streaky for that.

The other bright spot in this game, according to Rice, was that despite all of its mistakes UNLV had a chance to win in the final two minutes. That perseverance is something they’ll need, along with a better performance in the first 38 minutes.

“We’ll never quit playing until the final buzzer sounds,” Rice said, “whenever that is.”

Taylor Bern can be reached at 948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Taylor on Twitter at twitter.com/taylorbern.

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  1. When this team learns that when you need a bucket to stop a run or to finish off a tem, that you DON'T shoot contested off balance jumpers that fade away...then they will be dominant.

  2. Do they know how to draw a foul???

  3. Or maybe to start a game by going inside early to get other teams bigs in foul trouble!!Then they are resort on defense....

  4. @RebelJedi - They got to the free throw line over 30 times against Colorado State. New Mexico did a good job cutting off the driving lanes. Also, the Rebels didn't work the ball inside or swing the ball around the perimeter to open up lanes. That's why they were doing their best Kruger impression and hoisting up jump shots all game. Maybe they should try Lopez-Sosa when they need some interior scoring.

  5. This team is as talented and deep as any team in the country. They have won many games on talent alone. They just have never figured out how to impose their will on other teams with any regularity. You can say it is immaturity, inexperience (both players and staff) or lack of bball IQ but this team will most likely not survive the first weekend. There is no magic switch. They will get exploited. But for some crazy reason, I still am clinging to the fact that they might get hot for a couple games and give me one more high on this roller coaster we have all been riding this year. We will see.

  6. I noticed the fight on the other article and thought I would add my two cents. First of all, I will say I think it is everyone contributes to the loss as well as a win.
    I am sure that the coaching is emphasizing getting the ball inside, but it seems Bennett just doesn't want it inside, numerous times he got it on the block and would throw it back out and then leave the block to set the high screen, or retreat and get it about 15' out and put up a turn around 15'. I like Bennett but he is lazy. Multiple times on defense somebody would be beaten off the dribble and he stands and watched instead of trying to block the shot or at least get in front to stop the drive. He's the same on offense, he takes the easy route, it takes hard work to post up, I don't think he has it. Lopez, Birch and Thomas all get on the block and will get the ball thrown inside to them, unfortunately they don't finish well. I think as a freshman, you think everything will just come to you without working and Bennett hasn't learned to work yet. IE getting to the spot before the defense and holding the spot.
    In Marshall's defense, I don't think he wants to be as aggressive, I think the offense gets stagnant and then he drives or tries to make something happen. So after that, he continues to do what works. If Bennet would post up like Marshall does, everything would be solved. I do think Marshall lacks the open court instincts of a PG. Thats when he should be attacking and kicking before the defense is set.
    Personally, I think they should put Bennet at small forward and Birch and Moser down low, let Jones and Rheinhart alternate and Marshall at the point on offense. Sub Goodman for Bennett. Its not like you have to stick to whom is guarding you.

  7. Hard fought game, nice rebounding, tough missed shots down the stretch. This was a three-point game with 1:58 remaining.

    Shows some guts in the NCAA tourney, Rebels!

  8. @Run-nRebels (Toby Conley) - I think the Rebels can win a game or two in the NCAA Tournament. I think their downfall will be their lack of chemistry. They won't lose because of lack of talent, as they're one of the most talented teams in the country. I disagree with you about Anthony Bennett at small forward. He poor defense would be even more exposed. Birch should be a lot better offensively next year. He has already improved a lot in that area since he arrived at UNLV. I definitely think the Rebels are on the right track, and they'll be better next year.

  9. Cmon boys Coach Rice played Moser and set Birch and for what reason? Birch was just getting the feel for playing inside and and had full control of the paint. Then for some reason Rice thought Moser was right for the lineup and he was a disaster norebound no blocks terrible defense no points and cant defend???Thomas should be the frist big offf the bench, and Moser the last. Rice has no clue what he has in Birch.

  10. Good post Toby. Katin and Bryce are the same type of players. They like to dribble alot and shoot. They don't move without the ball well. Having both in there at the same time leads to bad chemistry. I like when Goodman comes in for Bryce because he moves without the ball. He moves to the open spots under the basket.

    As for Moser, he had one decent game a few weeks ago and now he's turned back to crap. He is one of the slowest laterally moving players I've seen.
    He can't make a layup, jumper, or anything.

    Jhawk can't even shoot straight let alone hit a jumper. He couldn't throw a quarter in the ocean.

  11. I agree that Coach should sit Moser in favor of Birch but I doubt that will happen. For better or for worse Rice is a loyalty guy. He has always stood by Mike and most likely will continue to start him. Hopefully he will not hesitate to bring in Birch and Goodman quickly when Mike is ineffective. At this point he is hurting the team more than he is helping. At least Hawkins comes in, plays solid defense, and does not turn the ball over. Really disappointing that Moser just cannot be the same impact player he was last year.

  12. Yes Phillips, I think it is mostly chemistry. When Kouger was here, we all dreamed about having a slasher like Jones and KR, but I think they, and mostly jones look to slash too much, although I would say both have improved greatly in finding the open spots and not relying on slashing or one on one moves. But in their defense, when the offense becomes stagnant it's like the ball ends up in their hands with a good luck sign. All I was saying about having Bennett at the three was for offense, on defense get him back down low. But recently they have been switching all the screens anyways, and have found both Birch and Bennett on the wing against guards. Moser is not a liability, he is and excellent rebounder and gets them going on the fast break. I will agree he is passing up open shots or at least 2nd guessing himself and has missed some lay-ups inside. But would you rather have him shooting open shots or BDJ of KR shooting contested shots or even hawkins or goodman shooting wide open shots. I think our best percentage is Moser shooting and getting his confidence back.( remember he put up 30+ on multiple occasions last year). On defense we all agree Birch has to be in there, so when Moser or Bennett, whomever is on the wing gets beat, at least we will have Birch back there at least making them think twice about bringing it to the rim. And Bennett tends to get more blocks when Birch is in there. To get it into the post and into Bennett, set baseline screens instead of a straight post up. I am sure the coaches draw it up to that way. Anyways, the good thing going forward is we go back to playing teams whom are not as familiar with UNLV.

  13. The Rebel lack of focus and offensive fundamentals are the result of a lack of coaching. A lack of offensive maturity! Period!

    The Rebels players and coach Rice are inexperience and hopefully will learn together as a team. Plus, the team seems to fall apart during certain pockets of a game. This is where coach Rice inexperience shows itself in full bloom.

    We all have watched enough basketball, especially college ball, to see when coaching is needed during a game. Coach Rice has not reached that level yet.

  14. I've been watching games last year versus this year, and the Rebels were much better offensively last year. They played more inside-out basketball. They also had much better off-ball movement. However, the biggest difference was having Oscar Bellfield at point guard. Imagine what this year's team would be like if Bellfield ran the point. You can just watch the tape last year and see the different mentalities of Marshall and Bellfield.

  15. @Run-nRebels (Toby Conley) - Based upon watching last year's tape, I think the offense will be so much better next year because they will have a true point guard. I think the ball movement will be much better, and they won't have to rely on Reinhardt or Dejean-Jones shooting forced jumpers. I don't think they're selfish players, but they feel that's the best option based upon the lack of ball movement at times.

  16. @mitmo52, I can't speak for Coach Rice, but it seems to me ( just my opinion and the way you worded your question ) coach plays Moser over Birch at the 4, because Moser is a better 4 than Birch is at the 4. Plus, I don't think either Mike or AB are very adept at playing the 3 (although, AB might do well at the beginning of the game playing the 3 offensively, but AB's outside touch fades quickly; furthermore, AB doesn't guard well against opposing 3's ). The season has shown that Mike plays best at the 4 rather than the 3, with either AB of Khem at 5. Also, I think Q was much more effective overall playing against Kirk, than Khem was playing against Kirk ( Q had 3 blocks ), so that could be the reason Khem sat so much. No matter how you sliced it, though, the overall shooting was poor: 9-31 for 3's, and 11-28, 39.2% on 2's ( still 2's were a higher % that were the 3's % by a long shot, pardon the pun ); anyway, a lot of points were left on the floor, rather than in the basket. Scoreboard Lobos!

  17. I agree phillips, it all starts with ball movement. I can't stand when AM pounds the ball into the floor trying to get people to move to certain spots. It seems like everyone gets confused. It seems this team would fare better if they made their one on one moves and looked to pass instead of shooting. I agree they will be better next year, and kind of hoping Moser stays. I think he will return to last years form.

  18. @Run-nRebels (Toby Conley) - Being able to size people up off the dribble like Reinhardt and Dejean-Jones is a valuable skill. However, it would be nicer to see them do that after moving effectively without the basketball. Marshall, Reinhardt, and Dejean-Jones are ball pounders, and it seems to have stagnated the offense. On last years team, Stanback was very good at moving without the ball, making a quick move to get the defender off balance, and pull up for an easy jumper.

  19. There is nothing wrong with running the high ball screen. It plays to AM's strengths of attacking the rim & interior passing. However, that cant be all we run & the key to adding wrinkles off it or other more traditional screening/motion sets is to get the ball into the post & play inside out. But who do we start at the 4 & 5 now? Bennett & Moser. Toby is right, Bennett does not want to post up, set screens, and bang. He wants to face up, shoot perimeter shots, rebound, & get transition dunks. Moser cannot do any of those things either & is a finesse player with length who wants to run & shoot mid range jumpers & stand still 3s. What we basically suffer from is we have a bunch of guys who want to be the life of the party....but no one wants to do the dirty work of setting the party up. Not to mention also having a pt guard who thinks "attack" not "execute."

    Plus, we're a victim of our own identity. "Freedom" "Lets Run" "Run as One" etc. Bennett & Khem didnt come here to set screens. They came for the open style of play. Katin didnt come here to try & run his man off screens. He came here to have the ball in his hands. BDJ & Moser didnt stay here to play a role...they stayed to be "the Man." All I'm saying is we cant have it both ways. We cant advertise that we are one thing to get the talent to come here...then turn around & run the Princeton offense. In order to run an advanced motion or screen game....we'd have to play Lopez & Thomas exclusively at the 4 & 5. They're the only ones willing & capable of doing the type of "worker bee" stuff say Kirk & Bairstow do for UNM. That means Bennett & Birch & Moser sit. Or never come here.

    Having said that though, it is Rice's job to get great players to conform to those roles. It is/was easy for Tark, Lute, Coach K, Calipari, Izzo, etc. to do so because they have the pedigree & respect of the players. Rice doesnt yet. And he never will until he takes a stand & imposes his will & standards on the team. I'm only giving him a pass because its his 2nd yr & he doesnt have a pt guard. But when he has one...I expect more in terms of complexity & execution. Until then, we are who we are and I still think this team is capable of making a nice run. Go Rebs!

  20. @djonian81 - Both Moser and Bennett are capable of facing up in the post and attacking off the dribble. Maybe they should try that instead of trying to fight for position. I agree with your assessment about Bennett, but not the rest of the team. Having freedom doesn't mean that they're going to be allowed to play streetball on the court. What Dave Rice has said is that he wants to push the tempo and score in transition. But, if it's not there, then they're going to run a play in the halfcourt. You have to be able to execute in the halfcourt regardless of what style you play.I think that Rice can get guys to conform to different roles going forward because he has guys with different skill sets. As examples, Reinhardt is a scorer, and Goodman is a defensive player who brings great energy to the floor. As far as the four and five positions, Roscoe Smith and Khem Birch will likely form the best defensive frontcourt in the conference next season.