Craig Mitchelldyer / Associated Press
Saturday, Dec. 17, 2016 | 10:45 p.m.
With time winding down, UNLV senior forward Tyrell Green calmly stepped into a 3-pointer from the left wing and arched it through the net as the buzzer sounded, setting off a celebration on the Rebels’ sideline that continued all the way into the locker room.
The score: Oregon 37, UNLV 33. At halftime.
The final score wasn’t nearly so kind to the Rebels, as Oregon used a dominant second half to pull away for an 83-63 victory at the Moda Center. But considering the circumstances, Green’s buzzer beater may as well have been a game-winner, as the undermanned Rebels seriously overperformed expectations just by staying abreast of No. 22 Oregon for a half.
The second half was more indicative of the talent gulf between the two teams. Even without injured starting forward Chris Boucher, who is averaging 14.1 points and 7.8 rebounds, Oregon clearly owned huge advantages in length, athleticism and experience, and it showed over the final 20 minutes as the Ducks switched to a more aggressive defensive set and held UNLV to 9-of-24 shooting (37.5 percent).
Junior guard Jovan Mooring led UNLV with 20 points, though most of that production came in the final minutes, long after the game had been decided.
Mooring said the Rebels had prepared for Oregon’s 1-2-2 full-court press in practice, but that Oregon threw a curve by waiting until the second half to unleash it.
“They switched their defense and I don’t think we were ready for it,” Mooring said. “It kind of surprised us and they got turnovers off of it.”
UNLV played some of its cleanest basketball of the season in the first half and committed just four turnovers in the first 20 minutes. After the break, Oregon turned up the pressure and forced the Rebels into 11 giveaways.
Oregon outscored UNLV 46-30 in the second half, and the margin would have been even wider had it not been for Mooring scoring 16 points in the final 10 minutes.
Oregon received strong offensive production from Dillon Brooks (20 points), Tyler Dorsey (18 points) and Jordan Bell (16 points), but the Ducks won the game on the defensive end, even without Boucher there to anchor the middle.
The Ducks came into the game leading the nation in blocked shots with 8.7 rejections per contest, and they swatted the Rebels eight times, leading to a 46-14 advantage in points in the paint.
“We could have been more selective about our shots and played for others,” UNLV coach Marvin Menzies said. “I think we had a lot of shots blocked just because 6-foot-2 against 6-foot-9, 6-foot-10 probably doesn’t add up. We talked to them about it, we showed them film. [Oregon is] the best shot-blocking team in the country for a reason. For whatever reason, our guys went away from what was working.”
As strange as it may seem following a 20-point loss, the Rebels can still head back to Las Vegas with their heads held high. The nightmare scenario for UNLV, which again played without injured forwards Dwayne Morgan and Christian Jones, was a replay of what happened a week ago when Duke jumped out to an early 20-3 lead and never looked back in blowing UNLV away, 94-45.
Oregon threatened to do the same in the early minutes, as the Ducks raced out to a 13-4 lead. But instead of wilting, as they did against Duke, the Rebels regrouped and showed some resolve. Green shot the Rebels back into it by scoring 15 first-half points, including the 3-pointer to beat the halftime clock that drew UNLV within four.
Though UNLV made just 29.0 percent of its shots in the first half (9-of-31), the Rebels took care of the ball, scrapped inside (12-of-14 free throws) and willed themselves to not let another Duke scenario develop.
“We definitely used that [Duke] experience, because we didn’t want to dig ourselves in hole again like that,” Mooring said. “Coach calmed us down. Basketball is a game of runs. There have been games where we’ve jumped on teams and they’ve come right back, so it’s just part of the game. We have to adjust better throughout the game when runs happen.”
Jalen Poyser had his second straight sub-par game, notching a season-low four points in 25 minutes just three days after he scored five points against Incarnate Word. Green finished with 18 points, while sophomore Kris Clyburn chipped in 10.
Menzies said there were openings in the Oregon defense, but that the Rebels had trouble making the extra pass necessary to take advantage of the cracks.
“I think the guys have a lot of confidence, and they think they can do things individually sometimes,” Menzies said. “It’s a team sport. It’s not golf. You’ve got to play with your teammates. We had the ability to get into the paint on them, but we just didn’t make plays looking for other people. So the four guys off the ball, those available receivers were just standing there while somebody else was getting their shot blocked. We’ve got to fix that.”
UNLV will head home with a 6-5 record and prepare to host Southern Illinois at the Thomas & Mack Center on Monday.
Follow Mike on Twitter at Twitter.com/MikeGrimala