Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019 | 5:15 p.m.
College basketball is a simple game sometimes. On Wednesday, UNLV caught fire from long distance and rode 14 made 3-pointers to a road win at Boise State. Three days later the shooting touch was gone, and the Rebels could only watch as Fresno State rode its own wave of 3’s to an 85-67 win at the Thomas & Mack Center on Saturday.
UNLV, which came into the game leading the Mountain West in 3-point accuracy (41.2 percent), managed to connect on just 3-of-15 from deep. At the other end of the floor, Fresno nailed 15-of-29 from outside the arc to account for the final margin.
UNLV is now 6-5 in MWC play and 12-11 overall.
Fresno State (17-6, 8-3) leads the conference in 3-point defense under coach Justin Hutson, a former UNLV assistant, and the Bulldogs showed why on Saturday. They pressed up on UNLV’s ball-handlers and forced the Rebels into rushed attempts.
“We didn’t shoot the ball well, which was a result of their defense for the most part,” UNLV coach Marvin Menzies said. “They’re a very good defensive team. They’re long and they get their hands in there and they dig. They didn’t turn us over but they forced us into a lot of tough shots, so you’ve got to give them credit on that side of the ball.”
Six different Rebels hit at least one 3-pointer against Boise, but only three were able to find the range against Fresno State. Kris Clyburn made 1-of-3, Noah Robotham made 1-of-3, and Trey Woodbury made his only attempt of the day. The rest of the Rebels were 0-of-8.
Menzies said UNLV didn’t move the ball quickly enough against Fresno State’s aggressive defensive scheme, resulting in too many bad shots.
“I’d say maybe eight or nine of [the 3-pointers] I liked, that I thought were in rhythm and in tempo and they just didn’t go down,” he said. “So that’s basketball. But I didn’t think we moved the ball nearly as well as we did in Boise and that was a result of Fresno State’s defense. I thought they were much more aggressive on the ball and I thought they did a better job in the gaps.”
While the Rebels struggled to lock in from long-distance, Fresno State started hot and never wavered. The Bulldogs hit four of their first five 3-pointers to jump out to a 25-12 lead, and they carried a 45-33 advantage into the break.
UNLV made a couple runs in the second half, but Fresno State guard Braxton Huggins was there to stomp out every comeback attempt. Huggins scored a game-high 31 points, including 17 in the second half on 7-of-11 shooting, to keep UNLV at bay.
If anyone were to have inside information on how to defend Huggins it would be Menzies, who recruited Huggins to New Mexico State four years ago, but the Rebels were unable to get stops when it mattered most.
When Mbacke Diong slammed back-to-back dunks to bring the Rebels within 53-48, Huggins responded with a driving layup to stem the momentum. When Clyburn scored on a fast-break to pull UNLV within 58-52, Huggins nailed a jumper to extend the lead again. And when Robotham converted an old-fashioned 3-point play to trim the deficit to 63-57, Huggins made a layup and a long 3-pointer on consecutive possessions to make it a double-digit game again with 6:50 remaining. UNLV never got closer than 10 points the rest of the way.
Robotham said Huggins’s repeated daggers were the result of superb shot-making as well as poor defense on the Rebels’ part.
“You’ve kind of got to tip your hat to them, they made some tough shots tonight,” Robotham said. “Huggins made a lot of tough shots, Deshon Taylor made some tough shots, but 15-for-29 [3-point defense] is not going to win any games.”
Taylor made 4-of-8 from 3-point range and finished with 18 points. Clyburn led UNLV with 15 points, while Diong scored 12 and Joel Ntambwe added 11.
UNLV will now turn around and prepare to host Air Force (10-13, 5-6 MWC) on Tuesday. When the two teams met in Colorado Springs on Jan. 16, the Falcons scored 106 points in a blowout win.