Sunday, October 16, 2011

Tournament time - What effort was in Vegas, stayed in Vegas - Season recap part 4


With the field for the Mountain West Championships finalized and UNLVs ever friendly home court, it looked to be a good tournament with two exceptions, BYU and SDSU were still dominant and still in the way. The draw put us facing Air Force in the quarter final, a team we had beaten in both matchups but we still played ugly basketball against previously. One of the measuring sticks of which Rebels team was appearing in the post-season would be how we played against Air Force this time.

The Falcons drew a 6 seed, the Rebels a 3. While it was likely the Rebels would get an at-large bid come Selection Sunday due to the finish to the regular season, Air Force needed to win the MWC tournament for a shot at the NCAA tournament. The Rebels out-hustled and out-muscled the Falcons to a 69-53 victory. The two people UNLV wanted to count on for production, Chace Stanback and Tre’von Willis, each had 20 points in the win. UNLV showed efficient offense production, shooting 50% from the field, and an impressive 55% from three. One troubling statistic was free-throw percentage, shooting only 65% on our home court (although UNLV didn’t have a ton of attempts). In other news, the Rebels impressively defended the bucket, tallying 8 blocks. This appeared to be the kind of team everyone wanted to see showing up to the tournament – great outing by the Rebels and certainly better than the other performances against Air Force this season.

UNLV then would have to deal with San Diego State, again on our home court. Unlike BYU, who was not playing the caliber of basketball they had been pre-Brandon Davies (if you’re not familiar, google Brandon Davies), SDSU was still firing on all cylinders. Each of the two previous matchups were agonizingly close, and could have favored the Rebels were it not for our shameful shooting percentages.

While the third meeting, this time in the MWC Semi’s, started off slowly for the Rebels, it became a close and interesting contest. As posted previously, here’s is how the Rebels hung with the Aztecs, but then lost the game:
   - 1st Half -
- Slow start for UNLV
- 3 ball not falling like previous games
- UNLV intensity very good, scrambling for loose balls, trying to make things happen
- SDSU early-on shooting at 80 pt pace
- Lots of turnovers
- UNLV makes its first run 2/3rds of the way through first half
- UNLV takes lead 5:35 left in half
- Stanback / Willis having great shooting nights again
- UNLV makes a critical error - intentional foul by Hawkins leads to 4 point swing
- Last 90 seconds of half terrible for UNLV, SDSU scores at will
- Aztec lead 10 PTS at half

   -2nd Half-
- Rebels 7-0 run to start half
- Quintrell big for us
- Rebels back within 2 @ 14 minutes in 2nd half
- Both teams making their FTs
- 4 minutes to go 66-66 tie, K. Leonard picks up 4th foul
- We have lead at 2:53 mark
VERY TENSE from 2 minutes onward
- We score, we foul them, they make their shots
- Game tied
- Bellfield throws a pass to Stanback that's a bit too low, picked off
- DJ Gay takes ball up court, at least 3 rebels defend the shot from around FT line, 2pt lead Aztecs

Sequence on last play
5 seconds left, UNLV in-bounds ball, no time-outs left
- not looking like we are moving with any sense of urgency
- Willis / or Stanback takes last shot well defended from several feet behind 3, misses
- Buzzer sounds, Quintrell Thomas misses layup after buzzer

UNLV ends up losing the game 74-72. Another close loss to the #6 SDSU Aztecs. Again, like the previous games – it was winnable down to the last few seconds. It was heartbreaking to see SDSU, even though they were amazingly talented that season, beat the Rebels 3 for 3. The benefit was that all eyes were on this match-up, everyone saw the Rebels play the Aztecs tough, and losing to the #6th ranked team in March isn’t a tragedy, even on your home floor.

Selection Sunday came, and while predictions were across the board as to where the Reb’s would land, at least they all had us getting into the tournament as an at-large bid. UNLV was selected as an 8 seed in the Southwest Regional to play Illinois, a 9 seed. In a bit of repetitive history, we drew the bracket that featured perennial favorite Kansas. Everyone believed that the Rebels could best Illinois and that we could perhaps look forward to another meeting with Kansas. Oh how wrong we all would be.

If someone made a list of lopsided spankings handed out in the first round of the NCAA tournament, UNLV would have to be on the receiving end of that embarrassing list. While the final score was 73-62, the game was nowhere close (similar to the Oregon game of years past). The Rebels started slow, and never took off. Illinois played basketball and scored at will. Our impressive Defense couldn’t save us. Our occasional offense was left in Las Vegas like a piece of missing luggage. Tre’von Willis blew out his knee and was of little use most of the game. Nobody else was able to help stop the massacre. Illinois shot nearly 60% from the field, UNLV almost 39%. Poor free-throw shooting and three point shooting were back. Illinois was the Globetrotters, UNLV was the Generals. UNLV was made fun of on the national stage, called by commentators “the walking Rebels”. Sadly, there was nothing to be proud of in this game.

With the perspective many months away from live basketball gives, and the events that have transpired in the meanwhile, maybe everything happened for a reason. While the initial blow on April 1, 2011 that Coach Kruger was leaving to rehabilitate Oklahoma’s basketball program was a turbulent time, the final product looks to be awesome – a coaching and recruiting dream team like few programs possess. Surely, had the Rebels progressed to the second round of the tournament, even the Sweet 16 again, Coach Kruger would likely have left anyhow and still would be overpaid by Oklahoma – its just too much money to refuse. Coach Kruger put the basketball program back in order, and now Coach Dave Rice is here to push us to the next level. While SDSU and BYU enjoyed their glory last year, it is the Rebels time to shine this year. Its not because BYU is gone (and much weaker) and SDSU is missing a lot of the keys they had, its because the Rebels needed to try something other than defense-defense-defense and the occasional wardrobe change motivation. The team had grown stagnant, but shows promise. We need to run, and have hired someone capable of making it happen. Last season was the final chapter of Lon Kruger basketball at UNLV, and by our standards it was neither good nor bad. I’m positive I’ll be writing a different recap next year where nobody ventures to call the Runnin’ Rebels “walking” again.

Be sure to check the new picture tabs for pictures of Runnin’ Rebels Weekend

Also, look forward to the season preview coming soon!

Here are some videos for season recaps:

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