Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015 | 12:25 a.m.
UNLV has lost two straight and five of the last six, so Las Vegas Sun sports writers Ray Brewer and Taylor Bern discuss reasons for the skid and what hope remains for the rest of this season.
It was a tweet that motivated New Mexico’s Hugh Greenwood to another level, but it was lack of execution that really cost UNLV another close game.
With everything even, including the rebounding totals, the Rebels failed to block out the Lobos’ Jordan Goodman, who put back an offensive rebound for the decisive points with 9.1 seconds left. The Rebels never got off a shot in the final seconds, falling 71-69 for their third straight loss and sixth of the last seven games.
“That’s the difference between going home happy and going home and getting little or no sleep,” said UNLV coach Dave Rice.
Greenwood was fantastic all game, notching a rare dunk early and draining 3s early and often. Despite coming in as a 29-percent shooter beyond the arc, Greenwood made 6-of-9 on 3-pointers and finished with 22 points and eight rebounds.
He would have been a focus after the game anyways, but during an on-court postgame interview with CBS Sports Network, Greenwood drew attention to a tweet sent to him Wednesday afternoon about his mother. Last summer, Greenwood found out his mother’s cancer had come back, and in response Greenwood created a fundraising foundation that contributes money to the UNM Cancer Center.
“There’s a line and it gets crossed and I was motivated tonight,” Greenwood said. “Got my first dunk since my freshman year and I credit him for getting us a win tonight because that’s what motivated me.”
After the interview, New Mexico coach Craig Neal hugged Greenwood with so much force that he brought him off the ground for several seconds. It was clearly an emotional moment and an emotional victory for the Lobos (15-6, 5-2), but it could have easily been a UNLV win if the Rebels made a few more plays.
The easy one to point to was the failure to block out Goodman, and freshman Rashad Vaughn said that’s the one that would probably stick with him. Goodman was able to get to the ball, freshman Jordan Cornish said, because “guys were so busy looking at the ball bouncing around the rim.”
Vaughn and Cornish could do little more than put their heads in their hands while trying to explain how this one got away four days after they let a lead slip away at San Diego State and eight days after they fell apart at Boise State. Every conference game was winnable, yet the only actual win was against the only team with fewer league victories than the Rebels (San Jose State).
“We have had five games now that could have gone the other way,” Rice said.
But none of them did, and now it’s hard to predict how the Rebels will respond. There were too many turnovers (13), senior point guard Cody Doolin (no points, no rebounds, three assists to one turnover) was mostly a nonfactor for the second straight game and senior Jelan Kendrick lost control of the ball on the final possession when he probably shouldn’t have even had the ball in his hands.
That said, faced with a depleted rotation because Goodluck Okonoboh had to sit out with a foot injury, the Rebels overall played well for stretches and effort wasn’t much of an issue. At times they went shot for shot and their defense, including three different zone looks plus some man-to-man, was good enough for most of the game to give them a chance to win.
But they didn’t, and when you’re in the cellar of a mediocre conference it’s hard to look past that to anything else.
“We are very, very close,” Rice said about getting over the hump, “yet it feels like a million miles away.”
A tweet isn’t the reason UNLV lost Wednesday night, though it might have brought out the best in Greenwood, who, including conference tournament games, is now 11-2 in the Mack. As good as he was, the Rebels had every chance to make the plays necessary to win and once again they didn’t do it.
There were some good individual performances — Christian Wood had 20 points and nine rebounds, Vaughn scored 13 and Pat McCaw had 13 points, six assists and five rebounds — but they added up to the same sinking feeling the Rebels have had for the last three weeks.
The Rebels need only to look in the mirror to figure out how things got this bad so quickly.