Saturday, Dec. 31, 2016 | 4:38 p.m.
There are a lot of different ways to win a basketball game. UNLV's 81-75 victory over Wyoming on Saturday goes down as a "game plan" win.
The Rebels didn't play spectacular ball — they shot 39.1 percent from the field, committed 13 turnovers and got outscored in the paint — but they executed the game plan, and that was enough to secure their first Mountain West conquest of the season.
The blueprint was clear. Wyoming came in attempting more than 28 3-point attempts per game, and 3-pointers had accounted for a whopping 36.7 percent of the Cowboys' offense over their first 13 games (11 of which were wins). So Marvin Menzies tasked his squad with defending the 3-point line at all costs. UNLV defenders were ordered to hug outside shooters, even at the expense of allowing open driving lanes and conceding some interior baskets.
“That’s what they do, they launch those 3’s as a team and they’re pretty good overall,” Menzies said. “So it was challenge all 3’s, be there on the catch, and for certain guys, we didn’t even want them to take [a shot].”
The result was Wyoming's worst shooting game of the season, as the Cowboys made just 5-of-26 from beyond the arc. Wyoming's leading scorer, Justin James, went 0-of-2 from deep. Sharpshooter Jason McManamen went 0-of-5. Stretch forward Alan Herndon went 0-of-5. That trio had combined to make 39.7 percent of their triples coming into the game, but Menzies schemed to force them out of their comfort zone, and that's how UNLV won.
Senior forward Christian Jones summed up the Rebels' defensive mindset after totaling 15 points and 10 rebounds.
"Just not over-helping on too many drives, because most of their points are 3-pointers," Jones said. "We stayed with our game plan and came out with a 'W.'"
Despite the solid defensive effort, the outcome was in doubt until the final seconds. Because the Rebels chose to cling to the 3-point line defensively, Wyoming was able to find openings inside, especially in the second half. The Cowboys adjusted to UNLV's defensive strategy by penetrating off the dribble, and more often than not the lane was wide open. That's how Wyoming was able to shoot 57.7 percent in the second half and rack up a 40-32 advantage in points in the paint, never allowing UNLV to build a lead of much more than two possessions.
On the offensive end, Menzies put the ball in Jovan Mooring's hands and let the junior guard operate down the stretch. Mooring responded with his finest game as a Rebel, finishing with 17 points, seven assists and just one turnover. He dished out four assists in the final six minutes, and he went 4-of-4 from the free-throw line in the final minute to help keep Wyoming at bay.
Mooring has had a rocky transition to point guard after scoring 27.2 points per game at the junior college level last year, but he continues to make strides, and Menzies trusted him to close out Wyoming.
"Seven assists, one turnover, so I would say he was pretty good," Menzies said. "There was a moment in time when I was watching him play and I was like, 'That's some good play there.'"
Mooring finished with a team-best plus/minus rating of +13 over his 31 minutes.
Besides Mooring and Jones, three other Rebels reached double figures, with Tyrell Green (14 points), Jalen Poyser (14) and Uche Ofoegbu (12) making just enough shots to hold off a late push from Wyoming.
UNLV closed out the first half on a 5-0 run to take a 42-36 lead into the locker room, but the Rebels were a little shakier as the final buzzer drew near. After Mooring hit a free throw to put UNLV up, 73-65, with 1:04 remaining, Wyoming forward Hayden Dalton got open and hit a 3-pointer to cut the gap to five points.
Kris Clyburn committed a turnover against Wyoming’s full-court press on the next possession, and though Wyoming came up empty on the offensive end, Clyburn missed the front end of a 1-and-1 to give the ball right back to the Cowboys. James hit a free throw, then grabbed his own miss and put it back in to trim UNLV’s lead to 73-71 with 33 seconds to play.
Poyser settled things down by making a pair of free throws, and Mooring connected on four in a row to preserve the advantage.
Mooring was pleased with the resolve the Rebels showed just three days after letting a lead slip away in a loss at Colorado State.
“It was more of a team effort. We all stayed together, and that was something we lacked last game, when we went up and they made a run and we didn’t really communicate like we were supposed to. But this game, we continued to communicate and we were able to pull it out.”
UNLV is now 8-7 on the season and 1-1 in the Mountain West, with a home game against Boise State set for Wednesday.
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