Published Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021 | 2 a.m.
Updated Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021 | 8:46 p.m.
The Sun's Mike Grimala and Ray Brewer discuss what's next for the UNLV football team after a 2-10 season. Already, its best defensive player announced plans to transfer. And what about the UNLV basketball team? What do you make of the 4-3 start?
Kevin Kruger hoped to spark his team with a lineup change tonight, but instead UNLV suffered its fourth straight loss to Division-I opponents, falling at San Francisco, 83-62.
The reconfigured lineup (including new starters Justin Webster, Josh Baker and Reece Brown) got off to a slow start, and aside from one first-half stretch in which Bryce Hamilton got hot, San Francisco was in control the entire way. Jamaree Bouyea tortured the scarlet and gray with eight 3-pointers and finished with 30 points.
UNLV's offense cratered in the second half, scoring just 25 points on 25.0% shooting. Hamilton finished with 25 points on 10-of-19 shooting while the rest of the team shot 12-of-38.
UNLV is now 4-5 on the season with four non-conference home games lined up over the next 18 days, beginning with Seattle on Wednesday (at Michelob Ultra Arena).
San Francisco extends late lead over UNLV
Well, this one is just about over.
San Francisco guard Jamaree Bouyea has caught fire again, and his hot shooting has helped the Dons build a 66-46 lead with 7:37 remaining.
Bouyea has proven to be unguardable, as he's made 10-of-14 shots to score 28 points. And when UNLV does have him defended, Bouyea simply steps back and takes a longer 3 (and it's working, as Bouyea is 8-of-9 from long distance).
On the offensive end it looks like UNLV is simply running out of gas. Bryce Hamilton and Josh Baker have committed bad turnovers that led directly to breakaway layups for San Francisco, and the scarlet and gray are shooting just 26.7% since halftime (4-of-15).
UNLV attempting comeback at San Francisco
San Francisco is trying to pull away, and with 12:40 remaining the Dons have extended their lead to 52-43.
UNLV was doing a good job staying within striking distance, but USF just scored five points in a row to create some breathing room. Jamaree Bouyea nailed a long, off-balance 3-pointer to beat the shot-clock buzzer, and UNLV guard Keshon Gilbert was stripped, which USF's Khalil Shabazz was able to convert into a breakaway layup.
Bryce Hamilton scored 15 points in the first half but has managed just a single bucket here in the second. UNLV is going to need his offense down the stretch.
San Francisco leads UNLV at half, 40-35
UNLV fell behind by double digits nearly instantly, but Kevin Kruger's squad spent the next 18 minutes clawing its way back into this game. At halftime, San Francisco's lead has been trimmed to 40-35.
Deposed starter Bryce Hamilton has played a big part in keeping UNLV close. The senior guard came off the bench and showed a renewed effort to getting into the paint, and his determined driving led to a team-high 15 points on 7-of-10 shooting. Donovan Williams also gave UNLV a boost off the bench, scoring eight points on 3-of-4 shooting.
San Francisco made its first five 3-point attempts but tailed off as the half went on, finishing 7-of-19 from long distance. The Dons are 15-of-36 from the field overall (41.7%).
Let's see if Kruger sticks with his new starting five to open the second half, or if Hamilton (and Williams and Mike Nuga) have done enough to get the nod coming out of the locker room.
UNLV falls behind early at San Francisco
Kevin Kruger's new lineup didn't quite provide the jolt he wanted, and with 10:54 remaining in the first half San Francisco has raced out to a 22-15 lead.
The new starting five looked understandably disjointed, and they came up empty on their first six offensive possessions (0-of-4 FGs, two turnovers). That allowed USF to build a 12-2 advantage before Kruger was forced to call timeout and make some substitutions.
Bryce Hamilton, Mike Nuga and Donovan Williams checked in and the scarlet and gray have been trying to chip away, but Dons guard Jamaree Bouyea is on fire (15 points on 5-of-6 shooting from 3-point range), making it difficult for the visitors to keep pace.
Kruger shakes up rotation at San Francisco
UNLV is going to look different tonight as it attempts to snap a two-game losing streak at San Francisco. Kevin Kruger has made sweeping changes to his usual starting lineup, swapping out three regulars, and the team may also have Victor Iwuakor available for the first time this season.
Regular starters Bryce Hamilton, Mike Nuga and Donovan Williams have moved to the bench, with Justin Webster, Josh Baker and Reece Brown taking their place in the starting five. Point guard Jordan McCabe and center Royce Hamm remain in the lineup.
The move could be an attempt to generate more offense early in games, as the starting five struggled to score in losses to UCLA and SMU. The lineup of McCabe, Webster, Baker, Hamm and Brown logged three minutes and 51 seconds of court time against SMU and played the Mustangs even, 11-11.
As for Iwuakor, the talented power forward went through pregame warmups with the rest of the active players and will be a game-time decision. He is projected to play a big role this season but has yet to suit up due to an arm injury; Iwuakor participated in practice on Friday, and Kruger said his return was close.
UNLV basketball attempting to stop slide at San Francisco
The past two weeks have not been kind to UNLV basketball. The scarlet and gray have dropped four straight games to Division-I opponents, and the last two losses have come by 22 and 19 points, respectively. It’s a bona fide slump.
And the schedule isn’t easing up this weekend, as Kevin Kruger will take his squad to the Bay Area for a Saturday showdown at 8-0 San Francisco.
Can UNLV turn things around against a quality Dons squad? Three keys to watch:
Kevin Kruger was not happy with his team’s shot selection in Wednesday’s blowout loss at SMU, so the first-year head coach addressed it in practice.
On Friday, Kruger and his staff broke out a roll of red duct tape and marked off the floor at the Mendenhall Center. The message: Shots from certain high-percentage areas of the court are acceptable, while shots from outside the taped areas are not.
It’s Kruger’s latest attempt to get his players to buy in to his offensive system. For the season 25.3% of UNLV’s shots have been unappealing 2-point jumpers, according to Hoop-Math, which ranks outside the Top 200 nationally.
Kruger believes better shots will lead to better offense. It’s not exactly a revolutionary idea, but it does require the players to embrace the plan.
“Everybody plays to the percentages,” Kruger said. “Any shot off the dribble is a lower-percentage shot, especially from 3. Any shot in the mid-range is a lower-percentage shot. Those are shots you want to get later in the clock, if you have to, if you haven’t been able to get a good shot.”
Senior guard Bryce Hamilton found himself benched for a short stretch on Wednesday after he took a questionable shot in the opening minutes against SMU. Shot selection has been an issue for Hamilton; he leads UNLV in scoring with 15.3 points per game, but he is shooting 38.5% from the field. More than 42% of his field-goal attempts have been mid-range jumpers, and he has made just 31.0% of those.
Last year, Hamilton had an agreement with then-UNLV coach T.J. Otzelberger that mid-range jumpers would be allowed—as long as Hamilton was making them consistently.
Hamilton said Kruger is more strict when it comes to acceptable attempts.
“They do a lot of stats and stuff,” Hamilton said. “It just shows where we’re good, offensively, and the shots we need to take as a team. That’s just something they really emphasize and something we’ve got to do to get better shots.”
Defending the Dons
UNLV will get an up-close look at a team that practices immaculate shot selection on Saturday when they face off against undefeated San Francisco. Under third-year head coach Todd Golden, the Dons have become one of the most analytically-inspired teams in the nation. They attempt open 3-pointers and layups and almost nothing else, as they rank No. 18 in the country in mid-range shots (14.5% of attempts).
That system has resulted in a Top-50 efficiency offense according to KenPom, and USF is No. 40 in defensive efficiency as well. Put it together and the data-driven Dons are 8-0.
Kruger clearly admires the way Golden has installed his system.
“Todd is awesome, he’s done an unbelievable job there,” Kruger said. “They’re patient. They know each other. They read each other really well. They have a really good chemistry about themselves. The guys coming off handoffs, they know if they’re going to shoot it, they know if they’re going to drive, they know when the guy is going to roll vs. pop. When you play teams like that it’s tough because they’re like a machine offensively.”
More run for Reece?
In addition to stylistic adjustments, Kruger could implement some personnel changes going forward as he attempts to find the right mix for the 4-4 scarlet and gray.
With power forward Victor Iwuakor out with an arm injury and center David Muoka playing inconsistently in spot minutes, there could be an opportunity for sophomore forward Reece Brown to claim a more prominent role. Brown got 12 minutes against SMU (compared to Muoka’s eight minutes) and posted eight points and one rebound.
Could that performance, in the context of UNLV’s tenuous frontcourt depth chart, lead to more minutes for Brown?
“Reece went in there and did everything we asked him to do,” Kruger said. “He cut hard, he finished around the rim, he rebounded well. Reece absolutely took full advantage of the opportunity in Dallas.”
What: UNLV (4-4) at San Francisco (8-0)
When: Saturday, 7 p.m.
Where: War Memorial Gym, San Francisco
TV: WCC Network
Bryce Hamilton, 15.3 points
Royce Hamm, 10.5 rebounds
Jordan McCabe, 4.4 assists
San Francisco leaders
Jamaree Bouyea, 17.9 points
Yauhen Massalski, 6.5 rebounds
Jamaree Bouyea, 3.6 assists