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Blog: UNLV falls short on its final possession in loss to Illinois

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Steve Marcus

UNLV Rebels head coach Marvin Menzies calls out to players during a game against UC Riverside at the Thomas & Mack Center Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018.

Updated Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018 | 3:24 p.m.

UNLV made a run late, but Illinois was able to hold off the Rebels, 77-74.

A 9-2 spurt in the final two minutes pulled UNLV within 74-72, and after the teams traded free throws, the Rebels were down 77-74 with a chance to tie it on the final possession. Amauri Hardy pulled up for 3, but decided to dish at the last instant and his pass was picked off. Illinois dribbled out the final 10 seconds to seal the win.

Hardy finished with 11 points on 3-of-12 shooting. Mbacke Diong posted 13 points and 13 rebounds, while Joel Ntambwe led UNLV with a career-high 18 points.

UNLV is now 4-4 on the season, with six days off before taking on BYU at T-Mobile Arena on Dec. 15.

UNLV trails Illinois late in second half

Joel Ntambwe's second 3-pointer of the game has pulled UNLV within 68-61 with 4:23 to play.

Ntambwe is now the Rebels' leading scorer on the day with 12 points (4-of-7 FGs, 2-of-2 3FGs).

The Rebels have finally started scoring, with Shakur Juiston making a 3 and Mbacke Diong tipping in a rebound to give UNLV eight points on the last three possessions. Can they keep it up and make one final run over the next four minutes?

UNLV down 61-50 with eight minutes to play

UNLV just can't seem to figure out how to score consistently, and with 7:48 to play Illinois has a 61-50 lead.

The Rebels have made just two of their last 11 shots from the field, and they are now shooting 28.3 percent for the game (15-of-53). Shakur Juiston made a 3-pointer on the last possession, so maybe that will get the offense going, but time is running short.

Illinois is having a field day around the rim, as they have converted 15-of-20 on attempts categorized as "dunks or layups."

Illinois pushes lead over UNLV to 55-42

Illinois has opened the second half with a 15-8 run, and UNLV now finds itself trailing, 55-42 with 13:54 remaining.

The Rebels went almost four minutes without scoring a point until Kris Clyburn broke the streak with a free throw. Illinois went on a 7-0 spurt during that time to extend the lead.

Shakur Juiston continues to struggle. The senior forward has not scored during his five second-half minutes, and he's currently got just two points on 1-of-6 shooting.

If the Rebels don't make a run over the next four minutes or so, Illinois could put this game away.

UNLV trails Illinois at half, 40-34

UNLV probably shouldn't be this close after shooting 29.3 percent in the first half, but at the break Illinois' lead is 40-34.

The Rebels made just 12-of-41 from the field over the first 20 minutes, including 3-of-14 from 3-point range, but a strong half from center Mbacke Diong (nine points, nine rebounds, one steal) allowed UNLV to control the paint.

Illinois' offense is built around the 3-point arc, but the Illini shot just 5-of-17 from long distance in the half. If the Rebels can replicate that level of perimeter defense for the final 20 minutes (and make a few 3's of their own), they'll have a chance to steal this one on the road.

Illinois leads UNLV midway through first half

The Rebels are still struggling to score, but they are hanging around. With 7:44 left in the first half, Illinois has a 25-19 lead.

Despite shooting 7-of-23 from the field and 1-of-6 from 3-point range, the Rebels have scored 12 second-chance points to stay within striking distance.

Sophomore center Mbacke Diong just made a steal and went the length of the floor for a dunk, and he now has a team-high six points and five rebounds.

The bad news for UNLV is that senior starters Noah Robotham and Shakur Juiston are both on the bench with two personal fouls. This is the second straight game Juiston has gotten himself into early foul trouble.

UNLV, Illinois tied early

UNLV has made just three of its first 12 shots from the field, but strong offensive rebounding has the Rebels tied with Illinois, 9-9, with 14:48 left in the first half.

Noah Robotham hit a clean 3-pointer, but all of UNLV's other points have come from hard work on the offensive glass. So far, the Rebels have five offensive rebounds while Illinois has just four defensive rebounds.

Illinois prefers to play small lineups, so UNLV coach Marvin Menzies will have to choose between going small to match up or continuing to play big in order to win on the glass.

Previewing UNLV basketball at Illinois with reader questions

With UNLV traveling to take on Illinois today (11 a.m., Big Ten Network), let's preview the contest by taking questions from readers:

@vegasmichael001

Is Menzies’ job in jeopardy?

@MikeGrimala

Wow, you guys don’t waste any time getting to the point. It’s a fair question though, as Marvin Menzies is now in his third year on the job and that’s usually as much time as a basketball coach gets before he’s expected to produce significant results. Menzies, of course, is fond of saying that he’s really in Year 2 because his first season was spent digging out of such a hole, but there are limits to that line of reasoning.

Are the Rebels as far along in the rebuilding process as they should be? Probably not. They still aren’t an NCAA Tournament-caliber program, and it would take a huge leap forward to see them making the cut in 2019-20, too. So from that perspective, there is some pressure on Menzies to speed up the timeline.

Menzies’ focus is on conference play, however, so let’s see how UNLV fares in the Mountain West before writing any eulogies. Though the Rebels have underachieved in non-conference play to this point, a top-four finish in league play would calm a lot of nervous fans.

@unlvbravesfins

Money for a football complex but not a basketball coach?!

@MikeGrimala

I think I get where you’re going with this question. College athletics donations are a funny thing. The Fertitta family is big into football and not so big into basketball, so when they decide to gift millions of dollars to UNLV, they prefer to earmark it for the football program — as is their right.

UNLV basketball has its fans though, and some of them have deep pockets. Every time the coaching job opens (or is rumored to be opening up) we hear whispers about donors who are willing to put big money on the table in order to lure top-name coaches. It hasn’t ever really panned out that way, but there’s nothing stopping the athletic director or president or the Rebel Athletic Fund from catering to deep-pocketed donors on behalf of the basketball team.

@BParry19

Where do you see the Rebels in MW play? Do you think this team has enough to finish top 5 or are they going to be about where they were last season 7/8?

@MikeGrimala

As I mentioned above, I think UNLV is capable of finishing in the top four. The Mountain West is looking extremely weak right now, and the Rebels have the kind of roster that will almost certainly be playing better at the end of the year than it is now.

Coaching will play a huge part. Can Menzies get the most out of the roster and amend his style to be more competitive against other MWC teams? That was his calling card at New Mexico State, where he dominated the WAC year after year. Menzies looked like he had the Rebels rolling last year, when they were tied for third place before an 0-5 finish to end the year.

If UNLV turns the corner and avoids that kind of skid this time around, there really aren’t any good teams standing in the way of a top-four finish.

@JosephMMartinez

If UNLVMBB was a Game of Thrones character, which character would they be?

@MikeGrimala

Instead of a single character, it might be more apt to compare the program to the empire of Valyria. At one time, Valyria was the most powerful city in the world, ruling for thousands of years due to its advanced commerce, culture, military power and magic. Sounds a lot like the Tarkanian Runnin’ Rebels to me.

Of course, a mysterious, cataclysmic event known as the “Valyrian Doom” reduced the city to rubble and caused the entire empire to be abandoned for centuries after. The city’s once-great architecture rotted and crumbled to the ground. The dragons went extinct. The magic evaporated. And in the GOT books, that’s where things stand in the present.

I don’t think the parallels with UNLV need to be pointed out any further.

@jareddean23

In your experience covering UNLV, is local interest at an all time low?

@MikeGrimala

I just compared the program to the ruins of Valyria, so yeah, interest is pretty low these days.

@LouDog777

Is the roster too full of projects (JTT, Chekne, Georgie, etc.) and kids that won't play.

@BuzzIzarownd

Talk about the differences in recruiting between NMSU & UNLV for MM

@MikeGrimala

Both of these questions seem to go together. If there’s one advantage a UNLV basketball coach should have over his Mountain West competition, it’s recruiting. The Rebels can go after (and get) players that are simply out of reach for the rest of the conference, so expectations are always high for UNLV’s recruiting classes.

During his previous stint at New Mexico State, Menzies didn’t have that luxury. He built his program into a consistent winner by recruiting outside the box, plucking diamonds in the rough from Africa and through other international programs, and it worked.

Because he had such success with that strategy, Menzies may be reluctant to give up on it. When he was introduced as UNLV’s head coach three years ago, he said he would be able to recruit at a higher level and not be forced to rely on so many international recruits, but so far that hasn’t panned out, as each of his classes has included overseas “project” players.

It frustrates the fans because it seems like the team is loaded with players who will need three or four years of development before they can be counted on as contributors. It makes Menzies look like he’s operating on a five- or six-year plan, and no college basketball rebuilding process should take that long. But in reality, only four of the 14 scholarship players can be classified as “projects,” and one — sophomore center Mbacke Diong — has already panned out. So while Menzies probably has to start nabbing more Top-50 recruits and fewer overseas projects soon, I don’t view it as a major problem right this minute.

@Dean_Bradley13

When will Trey Woodbury get a crack at some minutes to potentially give them a much needed shooter?

@MikeGrimala

Menzies said he is still high on Woodbury, and that the only reason he’s not playing real minutes now is because of the knee injury that kept him out for most of preseason practice. Once Woodbury gets up to speed and fully integrated, I think he’ll get every chance to earn playing time. The Rebels need his shooting.

@UNLVRebelHockey

Re: UNLV Hockey... what’s up

@MikeGrimala

There’s a thin line between being funny on the internet and being obnoxious on the internet. Remember how cringy the Vegas Golden Knights’ Twitter account was for the first year? UNLV hockey would do well to learn from that mistake.

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

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