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Blog: Rebels sloppy in loss to Valparaiso

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Wade Vandervort

UNLV Rebels forward Cheikh Mbacke Diong (34) defends against Valparaiso Crusader Markus Golder during a game at the Thomas & Mack Center Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018.

Updated Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018 | 9:27 p.m.

Valparaiso didn't play well, but that didn't matter on Wednesday, as UNLV's ugly offensive performance allowed the Crusaders to come into the Thomas & Mack Center and notch a 72-64 win anyway.

UNLV made less than 30 percent of its shots in the second half while committing a season-high 25 turnovers on the night. Valpo wasn't much better, shooting 37.1 percent for the game, but the Crusaders did a "better" job of taking care of the ball with 17 turnovers.

Shakur Juiston led UNLV with 14 points and 19 rebounds. Derrik Smits paced Valpo with 20 points and 12 rebounds.

UNLV is now 4-2 on the season, with a home game against Cincinnati on the schedule for Saturday.

Rebels flailing on offense, Valpo leads 56-45

UNLV has collapsed completely on the offensive end, and Valparaiso has extended its lead to 56-43 with 7:56 to play.

The Rebels have been unable to make baskets, and many times down the floor they've been unable to even create shots. UNLV has made just 4-of-20 from the field in the second half (0-of-5 from 3-point range) while committing eight ugly turnovers.

Valparaiso hasn't played much better, shooting 9-of-24 in the second half, but it has been enough to put some distance between them and the flailing Rebels.

Rebels trail Valparaiso in second half

The second half could not have gotten off to a worse start for UNLV, as an 8-0 run by Valparaiso has given the Crusaders a 39-35 lead with 17:50 remaining.

Mbacke Diong picked up his second and third fouls in the first 90 seconds of the half, and he's now on the bench after logging a plus/minus rating of plus-8 in the first half. Subbing in his place is Cheickna Dembele, who was minus-4 in his seven first-half minutes.

With Diong out for what will probably be an extended stretch, the Rebels are going to have to scrap in order to keep Valparaiso from pulling away.

UNLV leads Valparaiso at half, 35-31

UNLV opened up a lead as large as 11 points late in the first half, but turnovers allowed Valparaiso to close on a 6-0 run and the Rebels' lead at the half is 35-31.

When the Rebels were able to get off a shot, the offense was terrific (60.0 percent from the field). But 13 turnovers were a hindrance, and Valparaiso was able to capitalize on that carelessness to hang around for the first 20 minutes.

Shakur Juiston has been working hard for UNLV, leading the way with eight points and five rebounds. Mbacke Diong has been strong defensively (four points, three blocks).

Valparaiso has focused its offense inside the arc, as expected. Center Derrik Smits has a game-high 10 points on 5-of-8 shooting, and the Crusaders have a 26-20 advantage in points in the paint.

UNLV, Valparaiso tied early

With 11:23 left in the first half, UNLV and Valparaiso are knotted at 14-14.

Part of Valparaiso's strategy appears to be attacking UNLV's post defense. Valpo center Derrik Smits has gone at Mbacke Diong five times already, resulting in: one blocked shot, a forced travel, two baskets and one foul called on Diong. With Valpo emphasizing post scoring, UNLV is going to need Diong on the floor as much as possible, so his foul situation will be something to monitor all night.

Diong has two points, one rebound and three blocks in seven minutes so far. Kris Clyburn leads the Rebels with four points.

Three keys for UNLV basketball vs. Valparaiso

UNLV will look to improve to 5-1 when Valparaiso visits the Thomas & Mack Center on Wednesday (7:30 p.m., AT&T Sports Net). A look at how the Rebels can win their fifth straight game:

Fast start

UNLV has struggled to open games, and we’re far enough into the season that it can be called a pattern. The starting lineup of Noah Robotham, Kris Clyburn, Joel Ntambwe, Shakur Juiston and Mbacke Diong has played 44 minutes together this season, and opponents have outscored that group, 86-69, while they’ve been on the floor. Can that lineup come together, show some chemistry and break the pattern by getting off to a good start against Valparaiso?

Offensive glass

Valparaiso is solid on the glass, led by 7-foot-1 center Derrik Smits, who has a defensive rebounding rate of 20.7 percent. That presents a challenge for UNLV, which relies on offensive rebounding for a good chunk of its points. Through five games, Shakur Juiston has scored 20.0 percent of his points on putbacks, while Mbacke Diong has scored 10.0 percent of his buckets by crashing the glass. Can they beat team up to beat Smits under the basket?

Minutes for Mbacke

Speaking of Diong, he appears to be making a sophomore leap this season, averaging 10.2 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game. But fouls continue to be a problem — he has already fouled out of one game, and foul trouble limited him to a season-low 22 minutes in UNLV’s tight win over Southern Utah on Friday. He is one of the Rebels’ most valuable players, with a plus/minus rating of plus-8.7 per 40 minutes, so he needs to stay on the court against a team with size like Valparaiso.

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

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