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August 22, 2019

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Ray Brewer: From the Pressbox

Analysis: Tough for UNLV to be competitive when its defense is nonexistent

UNLV's Dembele Versus Hutchison

L.E. Baskow

UNLV forward Cheickna Dembele (11) and Boise State guard Chandler Hutchison (15) scramble for a loose ball on the court during their game at the Thomas & Mack Center, Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2016.

Rebuilding a sports program is a long, often painful process. What we witnessed tonight — the UNLV basketball team falling behind by double-digits almost immediately against visiting Boise State and losing 77-59 — certainly reaffirms that theory.

It doesn’t mean the Rebels are off track in potentially fielding a competitive team in a few seasons. It doesn’t mean that first-year coach Marvin Menzies is a bad game-day manager.

It’s just one game. Don’t hit the panic button.

Inconsistent play is one of the pitfalls in a rebuild, and there’s no telling when one of those nights of poor play will occur. It’s unfortunate it happened against Boise State in what appeared to be winnable game — UNLV was just a 4-point betting underdog.

But it’s tough to be competitive when you allow the opposition to make 10 of its initial 15 shots, fail to guard the rim defensively (Boise State scored 42 points in the paint) and frequently heave up out-of-control shots.

Here are a few observations from the game:

On to the next game: To UNLV’s credit, players have done a good job of not letting one bad game carry over the next. They lost to South Alabama in the season opener but responded the following game to beat UC Riverside. They lost a closely contested affair to TCU and responded the following night to beat Western Kentucky. They were humbled against the likes of Arizona State and Duke, but still didn’t fold. While they took a step back tonight, there’s plenty of basketball left. They can’t have a Boise State hangover that makes one miserable night turn into three or four bad games. How they play Saturday at Utah State is more important than how they struggled tonight.

Where was the defense? It felt like we were watching UNLV-Duke all over again. It’s just that Boise State isn’t a top-10 opponent with All-Americans and NBA Lottery picks at every position. Just like Duke, when the Rebels lost by 50 points and surrendered enough highlight-reel style plays to populate Duke’s end-of-the-year video, UNLV’s effort defensively was nonexistent. Whether Boise State players were penetrating to the basket for an uncontested layup or burying a long-distance shot, they faced little resistance. When there isn’t a defender within 3 feet, most college players will easily drain the open shot. And Chandler Hutchison couldn’t miss. He hit 12-of-19 shots to finish with a game-high 28 points.

Tyrell Green continues to impress: Before the season started, the narrative mostly focused on how the Rebels returned just two players from last season — Jalen Poyser and Dwayne Morgan. While Tyrell Green was with the program last season, he didn’t play. And because he was an unknown, certainly not as talented on paper as most of UNLV’s players last season, he couldn’t earn a spot in the conversation when breaking down this team’s strengths. Turns out, he’s the Rebels’ best player. The 6-foot-7 forward led UNLV with 10 points to continue his progression. He lost more than 20 pounds in the offseason and has used the leaner frame to be more explosive on the wing. Green blossoming into a contributor shows Menzies is capable of developing players on his roster. It gives hope that nights like tonight won’t be a regular occurrence.

Look at the state sheet: Boise State scored 41 seconds into the game to take the advantage for good. ... Kris Clyburn scored just four points and missed his first eight shots. He did pull down a game-best 13 rebounds. ... Poyser also had 10 points for UNLV. ... The Rebels shot 30 percent from the field; Boise State made 48 percent.

Up next : UNLV plays Saturday at Utah State in another game they should be competitive in. Actually, with the exception of San Diego State, the Rebels — at least on paper — are just as average-to-below-average as every team in the Mountain West. That’s what makes this rebuilding season an adventure. For as bad as the Rebels played tonight, there’s no reason they can’t get hot in March and make a run in the league tournament. Well, as long as they don’t play Boise State.

Ray Brewer can be reached at 702-990-2662 or [email protected]. Follow Ray on Twitter at twitter.com/raybrewer21

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