Juan Antonio Labreche / AP
Published Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017 | 2 a.m.
Updated Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017 | 8:03 p.m.
UNLV beat writer Mike Grimala joins sports editors Ray Brewer and Case Keefer to discuss the Rebels' rough start to Mountain West Conference play and what to look for going forward.
UNLV closed strong down the stretch and scored a huge road win, 71-66 at The Pit against New Mexico.
Jovan Mooring played hero, finishing with 19 points and six assists, both team highs. He hit Cheickna Dembele for a key basket in the final minutes to give UNLV a 68-64 lead, and after Jalen Harris made a layup to bring New Mexico within two points, Mooring made a free throw to maintain a 69-66 lead. UNM's Elijah Brown missed a corner 3 with less than 10 seconds remaining, and Christian Jones secured the defensive rebound to seal the win.
The victory could reinvigorate the Rebels, who had lost two straight games by double digits to fall to 1-3 in conference play.
UNLV shot 48 percent in the second half (12-of-25) and made 5-of-10 from 3-point range. Mooring led the way, scoring 14 points and dishing out five assists after halftime. Uche Ofoegbu turned in his best game as a Rebel, finishing with 14 points, eight rebounds and four steals.
UNLV taking New Mexico down to wire
UNLV is in position to steal a road win at New Mexico, trailing 62-61 with 3:57 to play. New Mexico will shoot a 1-and-1 free throw after the timeout.
Jovan Mooring has been critical to the Rebels' second-half surge, but a collision with teammate Christian Jones shook him up and knocked him out of the game for two possessions. Mooring re-entered and committed a turnover on UNLV's last possession, but to this point he's leading the team with 16 points and four assists.
The timeout situation bears monitoring — UNLV is out of timeouts, and that could come into play down the stretch in this back-and-forth game. New Mexico still has two remaining.
UNLV down by 2 at New Mexico
After UNLV pushed its lead as high as 53-46 early in the second half, New Mexico countered with a 9-0 run to regain the advantage, and with 7:38 to play, the Lobos lead, 58-56. Uche Ofoegbu will shoot two free throws for UNLV after the media timeout.
Jovan Mooring has turned on the jets, using his quickness to penetrate and draw fouls. UNM starting guard Jalen Harris is currently on the bench with four fouls, and UNLV will be shooting the double-bonus the rest of the way.
Mooring has 11 second-half points and four assists. Christian Jones has also given the Rebels an inside presence, scoring three inside baskets to help jump-start the Rebels' run.
UNLV pushed lead as high as 53-46, but UNM 9-0 run erased.
UNLV storms to second-half lead
UNLV has come out of the locker room on fire, outscoring New Mexico 9-0 to start the second half en route to taking a 44-41 lead with 15:46 to play.
Christian Jones started things off with an old-fashioned 3-point play, then Uche Ofoegbu and Jovan Mooring connected on back-to-back 3-pointers to put UNLV ahead. Jones has added two more inside baskets as the Rebels are making a concerted effort to drive and dish to their big men.
Considering the way UNM's last home game ended — with the Lobos surrendering a 14-point lead to UNR in the final two minutes — it will be interesting to see how they bounce back from this UNLV haymaker.
Rebels trail, 37-31 at half
For a few minutes it looked like New Mexico might run away with this one early, but the Rebels have settled down and trimmed UNM's lead to 37-31 at the half.
UNLV trailed, 25-14, midway through the first half, but the Rebels used a 10-0 run to close the gap. Tyrell Green came off the bench to bolster the offense with seven first-half points, while freshman Cheickna Dembele has provided much-needed rim protection on defense.
New Mexico had success finding 3-point shooters early, but UNLV has closed out much better as the game has gone on. UNM is 15-of-27 from the field and 3-of-8 from 3-point range. Dane Kuiper has done most of the damage for the Lobos, scoring a game-high 13 points on 5-of-5 shooting (3-of-3 3FGs).
Perimeter defense still looks like UNLV's biggest issue, as New Mexico guard Jalen Harris has been able to drive into the paint almost at will. If the Rebels can tighten that up and hit a few more shots (11-of-35 FGs, 31.4 percent), they could make this game interesting down the stretch.
Early 3-pointers have New Mexico leading UNLV
After UNLV's loss at Utah State, Marvin Menzies said the Rebels had been too lax in transition defense, allowing the Aggies to find open 3-point shooters too easily. That seems to still be an issue for UNLV tonight, as New Mexico hit back-to-back transition 3's to push their lead to 16-7 midway through the first half. UNM now leads, 16-11 with 11:40 to play in the half.
UNLV's new starting lineup didn't look so hot, making just one of their first nine shots from the field. But Tyrell Green has provided some pop off the bench, making two quick post-up shots to keep the offense afloat.
New starting lineup for Rebels vs. New Mexico
With his team having lost two games in a row to drop their conference record to 1-3, coach Marvin Menzies has decided to shake up the starting lineup.
Usual starters Tyrell Green and Kris Clyburn will come off the bench at New Mexico tonight, while junior guard Jovan Mooring and freshman center Cheickna Dembele will start alongside Jalen Poyser, Uche Ofoegbu and Christian Jones.
Green and Clyburn have struggled with their shooting in recent weeks, while Mooring has come on strong as a playmaker and distributor. And Dembele's insertion could be a sign that Menzies wants to shift to a more defensive-minded style of play.
The new lineup is not very familiar with each other — the quintet has played just two minutes and seven seconds together this season, getting outscored by opponents, 6-2. Can the new alignment make a difference against New Mexico? Tell us what you think by tweeting with the hashtag #unlvmbb.
Rebels head to New Mexico on two-game losing streak
Back-to-back double-digit losses to Boise State and Utah State have dropped UNLV below .500 (8-9, 1-3 in Mountain West play), and the situation threatens to get worse before it gets better.
The Rebels will travel to New Mexico on Tuesday for their second consecutive road game, which is a daunting enough task on its own, as New Mexico is a league contender this season and The Pit is a notoriously difficult venue for visiting teams. But when presented with context — the Lobos will almost certainly come out with renewed focus and intensity after blowing a 14-point lead in the final two minutes against UNR on Saturday — UNLV’s chances seem even more dire.
What can UNLV do to try to break the current skid and pick up a win at The Pit? Three keys to watch on Tuesday:
This aspect of the game is becoming less and less emphasized in today’s version of basketball, but New Mexico has an old-school post player in senior forward Tim Williams, and if the Rebels don’t do something to neutralize him down low, Williams will pound UNLV into dust.
The 6-foot-8 forward is averaging 19.1 points and 7.1 rebounds per game this year, and he does most of his work under the basket. More than 56 percent of Williams’ possessions come on post-ups, according to Synergy Sports data, and on those plays he’s shooting 58.1 percent and scoring a very efficient 1.102 points per possession. UNLV doesn’t have a player capable of stopping him one-on-one, so look for seniors Christian Jones and Tyrell Green and freshmen Troy Baxter and Cheickna Dembele to take turns on Williams throughout the game.
We could also see Marvin Menzies opt to play more zone defense in an effort to limit Williams’ touches. The Rebels played zone almost exclusively against Utah State on Saturday, and it seems like the matchup 2-3 zone is becoming Menzies’ preferred alignment. For the season, UNLV has played man-to-man defense on 75.9 percent of possessions and zone on 24.1 percent. The zone has been more effective, allowing just 0.803 points per possession compared to 0.897 in man-to-man.
Get Green going
Tyrell Green has been a very pleasant surprise this season, evolving into a major contributor by averaging 12.4 points and 6.1 rebounds per game. But the senior forward has been mired in a brutal shooting slump over the last four games, and it’s having an impact on the entire offense.
Over the last four contests, Green has produced just 7.5 points per game, mostly because his greatest strength — his outside shooting — has deserted him. Green has made just two of his last 22 attempts from 3-point range, and he’s shooting only 10-of-50 overall (20.0 percent) during that span. Because Green is not a difference maker on defense, most of his value is derived from his shooting, and the Rebels rely on him to provide spacing from the power forward position. When he’s not making, UNLV has trouble scoring.
Can Green get back on track early against New Mexico? A couple early baskets could be enough to get him back in rhythm, but it’s difficult to predict shooting slumps. Green will just have to shoot his way out of it.
New Mexico makes a living on the free-throw line. Williams has a free-throw rate of 22.2 percent, while junior guard Elijah Brown is at 19.7 percent. Between the two, they average 17.9 free throws per 40 minutes, more than any other tandem in the Mountain West. As a team, the Lobos average 28.5 free throws per game, second in the nation behind Brown (28.7).
This could be another reason for Menzies to call for a zone. The Rebels struggle to contain dribble penetration when they play man defense, and an aggressive driving team like New Mexico would be able to exploit that weakness and stage a parade to the free-throw line. If the zone gives UNLV a better chance of keeping UNM away from the paint and shooting more jumpers, it’s probably the Rebels' best chance.
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