Thursday, Feb. 19, 2015 | 12:35 a.m.
Las Vegas Sun sports editor Ray Brewer shares his memories of following Jerry Tarkanian's UNLV teams as a kid in Las Vegas and then Brewer and beat writer Taylor Bern get into the latest issues with this year's team and what to expect in Wednesday's game vs. Boise State.
The particulars change, and with them the postgame explanations. What remains constant for UNLV during Mountain West play, with few exceptions, is the result, and not even a night dedicated to the late Jerry Tarkanian could change that.
An ugly offensive night for everyone involved was tied with three minutes remaining. It’s the same scenario the Rebels have been facing throughout league play, and once again they became bystanders in their own downfall.
Some of the key plays this time were a missed front end at the free-throw line by Christian Wood, a turnover by Cody Doolin and Derrick Marks’ latest addition to an impressive collection of closing performances for Boise State this season. Just under the one-minute mark, Marks waived off any help and at the split second freshman Pat McCaw inched closer Marks sprinted past him and nailed a floater for a four-point lead.
At this point the specifics don’t even feel like they matter all that much. If it weren’t this it would be that, as UNLV (14-12, 5-8) has now lost seven conference games by six points or less, and the other one ended in overtime.
“What I want for us, starting with New Mexico on Saturday, is for every guy to be able to look in the mirror at the end of the game and say they did everything they possibly could to try to help the team,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said after the Rebels’ 53-48 loss to Boise State (19-7, 9-4).
The second-largest Thomas & Mack Center crowd of the season (13,765) gave several standing ovations during a pregame tribute to Tarkanian that included towels for everyone, an empty chair from the 1990 Final Four on the Rebels’ bench and a video of highlights. Perhaps the loudest cheer after that was when senior Jelan Kendrick banked in a 3-pointer with 12:22 left in the second half to keep in tact UNLV’s streak of making a 3-pointer in all 934 games it’s played with a three-point line.
There were serious doubts the Rebels would be able to make one after the teams combined to shoot 18-of-62 in the first half. UNLV took a five-point lead into the break thanks to attempting 10 more free throws than Boise State.
By the end most of the numbers were nearly identical except that the undersized Broncos outrebounded UNLV 47-36. Marks’ key drive was set up by a long offensive rebound that Igor Hadziomerovic grabbed without anyone around him.
“We blocked out and then no one went and got the ball,” Rice said.
Marks led all scorers with 16 points on 18 shots, which is actually the exact kind of numbers UNLV had hoped to keep him at. Boise State had its lowest 3-point shooting percentage since 2001 but was still able to win its first game under coach Leon Rice while scoring less than 60 points, snapping a 23-game streak.
“We haven't won like this, ever,” said Leon Rice, who was without two players because of a suspension. “It was a gritty, tough effort.”
It was also Boise State’s first-ever victory at the Mack and it comes at a crucial time for a team still competing for an at-large spot in the NCAA Tournament. Meanwhile, UNLV is in eighth place of a mediocre conference and staring down a play-in game as the Rebels are a full two games behind sixth place. This season the top six seeds get a bye.
“Hopefully by tournament time we can beat a team like that,” Doolin said.
Kendrick led the team with 15 points but no one outside of freshman Goodluck Okonoboh (10 points on five shots) had a good offensive performance. Wood finished with a double-double although he shot 4-of-13, something Rice felt could have been fixed with a few more whistles his way.
“I thought it was a very, very physical game,” Rice said. “Boise did a good job of pushing Chris off the block.”
Boise State was called for two more fouls and attempted three fewer free throws than the home team.
Rice said he liked UNLV’s defensive performance and the problem was leaving too many opportunities unfinished, whether it was misses at the rim or the Rebels’ abysmal 3-point shooting (2-of-18). To let an easily winnable game slip away on a night that meant so much for so many people would normally stick with a team, though when it comes on the heels of so many other close losses the actual game feels like déjà vu.
“Regardless, it was a really special night for me as a player. It’s something I’ll probably never forget,” Doolin said. “It’s quite an experience to have a lot of the ex-players there and to honor such a legendary, great coach. I really felt special.”
The pregame tributes and the emotions of watching the Strip lights go dark shortly after the game were moments those in attendance will probably remember forever. What happened in between was something they probably wish they could forget.
Vaughn has surgery; timetable unknown
Rice said freshman Rashad Vaughn, the team’s leading scorer, had successful surgery Wednesday to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee. The operation went well, Rice said, but the timetable for his return is still being determined.
The standard recovery time is four to six weeks, with some people able to return in as little as three weeks.