Tuesday, Dec. 25, 2018 | 5:32 p.m.
The Runnin’ Rebels traveled to Hawaii for the Diamond Head Classic hoping to find out how they measure up against quality opposition. Instead, UNLV will return home with more questions than answers after getting blown out by Bucknell on Tuesday, 97-72.
UNLV was not competitive at any point. Bucknell opened the game with a 9-3 run, and the Bison led 20-10 midway through the first half. UNLV cut the deficit to nine late in the period, but Bucknell closed the half with a 12-4 spurt to stretch the lead to 47-30 at the break, and the rout was on.
Joel Ntambwe led UNLV with 13 points, but the freshman went just 4-of-17 from the field. Amauri Hardy was the only other Rebel in double figures, as he scored 12 points on 5-of-10 shooting.
UNLV dropped to 6-6 with the loss.
Some quick thoughts:
Size doesn’t matter
How much does size matter in the game of basketball today? Not much.
UNLV dominated all the “big man” stats against Bucknell, including a 26-2 advantage in second-chance points. But Bucknell went 14-of-25 from 3-point range, UNLV went 4-of-25 from deep, and that was the difference in the contest.
The Rebels are not a good outside-shooting team. It’s a weakness. But it doesn’t have to be a fatal weakness. UNLV must do a better job of defending the 3-point line and limiting opponents to fewer open looks from beyond the arc. If the opposition is allowed to make 14 3-pointers, that’s a game UNLV has very little chance of winning — no matter how well the Rebels’ big men play.
Beck is back
After being benched for the last three games due to being in poor physical condition, sophomore forward Tervell Beck finally rejoined the rotation on Tuesday. Beck played 16 minutes before fouling out, finishing with six points on 3-of-4 shooting.
With Shakur Juiston out, the Rebels need frontcourt reinforcements. The 6-foot-8 Beck actually played center for some stretches, as Menzies searched for a way to match up against Bucknell’s spread offense.
If Beck is back in shape, that at least gives Menzies another option up front as the team prepares for the start of Mountain West play.
Back to drawing board
After getting run off the floor by KenPom’s fourth-ranked Patriot League team, it may be time for UNLV to reassess where it stands heading into conference play.
If Shakur Juiston is out for the season — there has been no announcement from the team on his status since leaving for Hawaii — can Marvin Menzies stick with his preferred style of pounding the ball into the paint on offense? It might make sense against certain opponents with Juiston in the lineup, but the rest of the big men are too raw to be counted on for consistent offensive production.
And defensively, the Rebels were completely exposed by Bucknell’s ability to space the floor with four (and sometimes five) shooters at the same time. As we know, Mountain West teames are not afraid to spread it out and launch 3’s every time down the floor, so the UNLV coaching staff might have to tweak the defensive game plan.
UNLV will have a week off before the MWC opener against Colorado State on Jan. 2. That’s enough time for the staff to assess what went wrong in Hawaii; the question is, can the Rebels fix it quickly enough to compete in the Mountain West?