UNLV might be the team no one wants to play at the Mountain West Conference Tournament, but it’s close.
The Rebels, trying to figure it all out, have lost seven conference games but by an average of 3.7 points.
UNLV (14-11, 5-7) opened last week with a victory over Fresno State, but ended up losing leading scorer Rashad Vaughn to a knee injury and then a game at Air Force — both of which put into question whether the Rebels really will be the team that no one wants to match up against next month at the Mountain West Conference Tournament.
On the one hand, the Rebels have a ton of talent. Vaughn has a chance to be back by then, after tearing meniscus in his left knee in the final minute of the win over the Bulldogs. On the other, with or without the talented freshman guard (averaging 17.8 points per game), the Rebels haven’t yet figured out how to win games down the stretch.
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The 76-75 loss to the Falcons was UNLV’s second defeat in a row by 1 point — an 83-82 loss at Colorado State is the other half of the sandwich around the victory over Fresno State — and all seven of their conference losses this season have come by a single-digit and six have come by six points or less.
The average margin in those losses is just 3.7 points, which has to aggravate to no end. The only Mountain West teams that suffered their defeats by a smaller margin than UNLV’s 3.7 had just three losses. New Mexico in 2014 lost by three, one and three points; Utah in 2003 lost by two, seven and one.
Boise State last season was within six or fewer in 7 of 9 conference losses, but also had nine- and 20-point losses in there, the latter to Fresno State at Save Mart Center.
The smallest average margin for a team in their conference losses:
New Mexico in 2014, three losses by seven points
Utah in 2003, three losses by 10 points
UNLV in 2015, seven losses by 26 points (ongoing)
New Mexico in 2009, four losses by 19 points
Utah in 2002, four losses by 19 points
New Mexico in 2011, eight losses by 39 points
San Diego State in 2006, three losses by 15 points
UNLV in 2004, seven losses by 36 points
Boise State in 2014, nine losses by 51 points
UNLV in 2003, six losses by 34 points
The Rebels have six more chances to add to that aggravation, or get it right.
They definitely have enough talent to put together a run the final three weeks of the conference season. But down the stretch, when in close, they aren’t making the right plays.
In the loss at the Air Force, with the score tied at 60 with 5 minutes to go, the Rebels let the Falcons do exactly what they didn’t want them to do. They knocked down shots at the 3-point line. Zach Kocur hit one with 3:34 to go, another with 2:05 to play and the last with 43 seconds remaining.
“We talked about it every timeout, we talked about it before the game, we worked on it the last two days,” UNLV coach Dave Rice was quoted by the Las Vegas Sun. “They did a good job running their zone offense, but we didn’t do a good job of locating. We made too many defensive errors.”
After the first Kocur 3-pointer, the Rebels’ Christian Wood turned it over at the other end. After the second one, which at the time put the Rebels down four, UNLV got a timeout to set up a play and then Wood turned it over again.
Patrick McCaw knocked down a jumper to get the Rebels within 68-66 and UNLV called a timeout, where the Rebels no doubt got a reminder to at least close out on Kocur or any other 3-point shooters. But Kocur knocked down his third 3 in the sequence.
UNLV stayed in the 2-3 zone that it had deployed much of the game rather than switching, perhaps, to man, but that wasn’t really the issue. Air Force had hit only 3 of 12 beyond the arc in the first half, but was 9 of 13 (69.2%) in the second — including 3 of 4 in the final five minutes.
“It wasn’t about what defense we were in, it was about our sense of execution in terms of running guys off the line,” Rice said. “We knew what we were supposed to do and we didn’t do it, especially in the second half.”
Knocking them down
Fresno State hit 50% of its shots in a victory over Boise State, a neat 22 of 44, which is a season high against any Division I opponent not named San Jose State.
The Bulldogs had, in their first 11 conference games, hit 40% or better just three times, two of those coming against the Spartans. That wasn’t a school record or anything, but they certainly have proven capable of some low percentages:
Less than 40% 12 times in 16 games
Less than 40% nine times in 16 games
Less than 40% seven times in 14 games
Less than 40% seven times in 16 games
Less than 40% six times in 18 games
The aforementioned Spartans (2-22, 0-12) have not beaten a D-I team this season and have hit less than 40% of their shots in eight of their conference games as well, which has to be a fairly chilling thought for the Bulldogs.
•San Diego State
clinched a 10th consecutive 20-win season Saturday with a victory over Colorado State, also its school-record 29th win in a row at the Viejas Arena. Before this streak, the Aztecs had a total of 10 20-win seasons in school history.
played at Nevada and held the Wolf Pack scoreless for a 9-minute, 11-second stretch in the first half, limited them to 23.3% shooting and 19 points overall while forcing nine turnovers. By the break, the Lobos had built a 31-19 lead that hit 15 in the second half … and they still ended up losing in overtime. Over the final 8:17 of regulation, the Lobos were outscored 21-7.
• Nevada guardTyron Criswell
, in the Reno Gazette Journal: “Previous games, when we got down, we’ll put our heads down and point fingers. Tonight, we were together and we played real hard and got a ‘W’ out of it. We have to play like this every night.”
put up 70 points in beating the Lobos, the first team to score 70 against New Mexico in 29 games since Fresno State did it last season in the conference tournament, though the Bulldogs lost 93-77.
• Nevada centerA.J. West
has nabbed 140 offensive rebounds to lead Division I and having played only 23 games at this point already ranks third on the single-season Mountain West Conference list. Boise State forward Ryan Watkins had 170 offensive rebounds in 34 games last season and San Diego State forward Aerick Sanders had 142 in 30 games in 2004.
• In becoming the 29th team in a row to absorb a loss at the Viejas Arena,Colorado State
hit just 2 of 19 shots beyond the 3-point line, which can happen against the Aztecs, especially on their home floor. It was the worst shooting game for Colorado State at the 3-point line since a 91-47 loss at Brigham Young on Jan. 16, 2010. The Rams were 1 of 13 in that game.
, which has lost 112 man-games this season because of injuries and in that victory over UNLV trotted out its ninth different starting lineup, has won four of its past six Mountain West games — its best stretch in conference play since 2012-13.
• Boise State guardDerrick Marks
had 31 points in a loss at Fresno State, the ninth 30-point game in his career. That is a school record and puts him third all-time in the Mountain West. Brigham Young guard Jimmer Fredette had 24 and New Mexico guard Ruben Douglas 15.
Thanks for the help
Air Force hung on for that one-point win over UNLV while dishing out 24 assists on 25 made baskets, an assisted-basket percentage of 96.0.
The Falcons have three of the top five single-game assists totals in conference play with 25 (on 30 makes) in a home loss to Colorado State, 24 in the victory over UNLV and 23 (on 33 baskets) in a home victory over San Jose State. Their overall assisted basket percentage in Mountain West play is 64.7%.
The top five teams in the conference in that category:
Fresno State ranks last of 11 in the Mountain West at 43.8%, but has fared well in games in which it has moved and shared the basketball.
In games where the Bulldogs’ assisted basket percentage is 50% or better, they are 8-2, and one of those losses is the triple-overtime back-and-forth brawl with Wyoming. In games below 50%, the Bulldogs are 4-11.