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Boise State tops UNLV in early Mountain West showdown

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L.E. Baskow

UNLV head coach Marvin Menzies stands on the sidelines dejected after his team is way behind versus UNR during their game at the Thomas & Mack Center on Saturday, February 25, 2017.

With less than three minutes to play in Saturday’s matchup of Mountain West contenders, Boise State swingman Chandler Hutchison found himself with the ball in the left corner, with his team protecting a 73-67 lead.

A 7-1 run by UNLV had given the Rebels some momentum, so Hutchison’s next move was critical. He eyed his defender — 7-foot freshman center Brandon McCoy — jabbed to the right, then elevated for a 3-pointer over McCoy’s outstretched arm.

Swish.

That dagger all but finished off the Rebels, and Boise rode Hutchison’s star performance to an 83-74 win at the Thomas & Mack Center.

The corner triple was emblematic of UNLV’s inability to defend Hutchison. Head coach Marvin Menzies threw the kitchen sink at the 6-foot-7 senior, but nothing worked. Kris Clyburn, Jovan Mooring and Shakur Juiston all had their turns on Hutchison, and none were able to slow him down. Finally, it was McCoy who tried to contain him at the game’s most important juncture, and the Rebels’ star big man got served.

Hutchison, the MWC Preseason Player of the Year, finished with a game-high 34 points on 13-of-18 shooting.

Menzies credited Hutchison for torching a defensive game plan that was designed specifically to stop him.

“We tried to get him to his left hand, and we did that only a couple of times,” Menzies said. “But he gets back to [his right] pretty good. He shot the ball well. That’s one of the things, you want to play him to be a shooter, and he shot it well. When he does that — when he starts to shoot the 3-ball like that and he can go to his left hand, he’s a pretty difficult guy to guard. It is what it is. He’s a great player and he had a great game.”

Hutchison wasn’t the only reason UNLV lost its Mountain West opener, just the most obvious. The Rebels also faltered on the glass and in transition defense, and an experienced Boise State team pounced.

The Broncos used a 20-2 run early in the second half to break open what had been a tight game through the first 25 minutes, and UNLV was left to play catch-up the rest of the way.

Juiston led UNLV with 25 points on 10-of-14 shooting, but the Rebels found themselves trading baskets once they fell behind. They struggled to get back quickly enough in transition, and Hutchison consistently pushed the ball forward before UNLV could get its defense settled. That allowed Boise to attack the rim, as evidenced by the Broncos making more than half their shots on the night (50.8 percent).

Boise State also out-hustled UNLV on missed shots and finished with a 48-29 advantage in rebounding. The Broncos grabbed 13 offensive rebounds, which led to 12 second-chance points.

Juiston pulled down seven rebounds but said the Rebels weren’t committed enough in that area.

“Certain rebounds bounce certain ways,” Juiston said, explaining how Boise was able to build such a big advantage on the glass. “A couple of them were me not boxing out, a couple of them were all of us not boxing out and [Boise State] just got them. They pursued the ball very well and that’s why they out-rebounded us.”

Injuries to reserves Anthony Smith (ankle) and Cheickna Dembele (head) forced Menzies to stick to an eight-man rotation, and McCoy appeared to wear down in the second half. Although he finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds in 34 minutes, he struggled to keep up with Boise’s pace and was left jogging behind the action on several plays.

Mooring also had an off-shooting night, finishing with eight points on 2-of-14 from the field.

After being picked apart by Hutchison, UNLV is now 11-3 on the season and 0-1 in conference play. The schedule should lighten up over the next few weeks — UNLV’s next five games are against teams projected to finish in the bottom half of the league — but Menzies doesn’t want his team to take any Mountain West games for granted.

“It’s going to be a war every night,” Menzies said. “I think our guys got a taste of what conference play is like. It’s different. We’ve got a lot of guys that have never played in a conference game, and I think they saw tonight that the concentration and the focus of everyone that you go against is heightened.”

Mike Grimala can be reached at 702-948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Mike on Twitter at twitter.com/mikegrimala.

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