Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019 | 11:15 p.m.
Round and round we go on the Rebel rollercoaster. UNLV has shown plenty of reasons for optimism in a long span since our last episode, but a blowout loss at San Diego State cut into the enthusiasm. Ray Brewer and Mike Grimala discuss where the Rebels currently stand, and what to expect over the next week.
If Tuesday’s game against rival UNR was a measuring-stick moment for UNLV’s rebuilding process — and it was hard not to view it that way — the Rebels are going to need a very long stick. The two programs appeared to be light years apart, as UNR came into the Thomas & Mack Center and dismantled UNLV, 87-70.
UNR looked every bit like a team coming off a Sweet 16 appearance last year and heading toward another one this season. The Wolf Pack tortured UNLV on both ends of the floor, built a 22-point halftime lead and cruised the rest of the way to improve to 20-1 (7-1 in the Mountain West).
While UNR was flexing, UNLV was shrinking. The Rebels, who came into the game leading the conference in 3-point shooting (41.9 percent), missed their first 12 attempts from long distance. By the time Joel Ntambwe finally connected, his 3 did nothing more than pull UNLV within 54-33 early in the second half.
After opening Mountain West play by winning five of their first six, the Rebels have now dropped two in a row, and both have come in blowout fashion. UNLV is now 11-9 and 5-3 in the league.
Senior guard Kris Clyburn said the Rebels were simply overwhelmed by UNR.
“They threw the first punch and it was hard to recover,” Clyburn said. “That’s one of the things that we’ve got to take forward, going through these next couple games in this tough stretch. That’s something we’ve got to work on.”
There were times in Tuesday’s game when it appeared UNLV had no chance of matching up with UNR.
On the Wolf Pack’s first possession, forward Trey Porter took Ntambwe into the post. Porter backed down the freshman and dunked on him for a 2-0 lead.
When senior guard Noah Robotham played tight defense on UNR star Caleb Martin, the All-America candidate simply rose up and hit a contested 3-pointer to make it 18-8.
When UNLV tried to sneak in a possession of zone defense, UNR expertly picked it apart, leading to a Jazz Johnson corner 3 that extended the lead to 41-21.
And on it went. UNR’s lead got as high as 25 points in the second half before the Pack throttled down.
Martin finished with 26 points on just 12 shots. He went 4-of-7 from 3-point range, with each of the makes coming against good defense. Martin, who is listed at 6-foot-7, was simply too long and too talented for any UNLV defender to stop.
When asked if there was anything UNLV could do to defend a player like Martin, UNLV head coach Marvin Menzies jokingly suggested fouling him.
But there were no real answers.
“I don’t know man, he was really good tonight,” Menzies said. “The kid is an NBA player. He made tough shots tonight. He was 4-for-7, shot the lights out and they were 9-for-22 as a team. A lot of those were guarded, contested shots.”
For the game, UNLV finished 7-of-26 from 3-point range. Clyburn scored a team-high 23 points, and Amauri Hardy chipped in 17, but most of that damage was done after the game had long been decided.
After losing consecutive games to rivals San Diego State and UNR by twin 17-point margins, Menzies tried to shift the focus to the incremental improvements that come during a rebuilding process.
“Inevitably it’s about winning,” Menzies said. “But with the process that we’re building the program, it’s also about improvement. We had a bad first half, and we improved the second half. Sometimes you’ve got to take small victories and build on those.”