Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Ugly ball bounces in our favor: UNLV beats UTEP 65-54


For a game against a UTEP team that only has two wins on the season and the Rebels were supposed to beat by 18, it was way to close - for way too long.

This was a slow and sloppy game in the first half for both teams. The game was kept close on poor shooting by the Rebels (3-19 early), very limited scoring by two normally key offensive guys, Stanback (5 points, but not until late) and Moser (6 points, but 11 rebounds). The bulk of the scoring in this game fell on Carlos Lopez (11 points)– who was solid while in the game but plagued by early foul trouble, Justin Hawkins (12 points), and Anthony Marshall with a game high 20 points, many of them late in the game. The slow start has been a hallmark of all of there most recent games, from the two road losses to the wins, this one and the one against Cal State San Marcos, both against mediocre teams. To Coach Tim Floyd’s credit, his team was prepared to defend the Rebels, and to dictate tempo. At this point in the season, I’m far less impressed with the Rebels ability to merely win a game against a team that manhanded us on defense and successfully stole the tempo from our guys – when they are as lousy as the UTEP Miners. The best indicator that the Rebels weren’t “putting the biscuit in the basket” was that they had only 5 points 7 minutes into the game.

Things weren’t all bad in the first half, there was a nice sequence where a steal lead to a dunk by Anthony Marshall, and then on the next play a steal lead to a three pointer by Oscar Bellfield.

One of the more interesting things, was that in one of the timeouts Coach Schroyer was the one talking to players about the set they were going to run, with Coach Rice to the side of him, and Coaches Hutson and Augmon behind Rice. I was surprised to see Coach Rice differing to Schroyer, and at that point in the game given the results after that time out, it had limited effectiveness in terms of building a lead against UTEP.

The second half remained uncomfortably close, with the lead see-sawing at times. It wasn't until approximately 4 minutes remained in the game that the Rebels, on the backs of Marshall, Hawkins, and some late scoring by Stanback gave the Rebels a comfortable margin to win the game. 

Turnovers were a major problem that plagued both the Miners and Rebels, but the Rebels limited turnovers in the second half and finished with a slightly higher than acceptable 14. Thankfully, the Miners couldn’t hold onto the basketball to save their lives, and had 20 turnovers of their own.

The real issue on offense, beyond poor shooting or the fact that Moser is still not himself, is assists. The Rebels continue to do the opposite of what gave them the win streak, and what put them over the top against North Carolina – sharing and helping each other score the basketball. The Rebels had only 11 assists. That’s the lowest number they’ve had this season and still won the game. The other games that had similar numbers were vs. USC (w) with 12, Wichita State (L) with 13 and Wisconsin (L) with 8. All others were close to or higher than 20 assists, and the season average is 18 assists per game.

The real issue on defense, is energy. As was extremely noticeable, when the Rebels came out of certain timeouts they played great defense, but most of the game they did not  - especially in the first half. Had the Rebels played defense with the energy of UTEP, we would have easily surpassed the odds makers 18 point margin. What the coaching staff should have the players do, is put on their best defensive effort early on, and figuratively punch them in the mouth so their offensive prowess is diminished. Coach Kruger’s teams were better in that respect – and its something the current team needs to watch some of the previous seasons game tape on. As far as effort on D, the best example in recent memory would have to be the team that went to the Sweet 16, with Kevin Kruger and Curtis Terry; those guys hustled and made up for their lack of skill and talent many-times-over with pure determination.

Props go out to Quintrell Thomas, although he was given limited minutes still (9 minutes) he still had 3 blocks and had a pretty sweet dunk. Although the reason the staff hasn’t been playing Q much is unknown to me, I’m ever hopeful that the guy gets more playing time and is able to improve and be a key inside presence for the Rebels.

It could just be the overall energy level of the team, and this week is finals for these student-athletes, but its not just that the Rebels have been lax and tentative on defense, but when they do get possession of the ball, the effort isn’t dramatically better either. Some of the complaints of people far closer to the game than myself that the players weren’t ‘talking on defense’ – didn’t see improvement in that area today.

The Rebel Reign MVP is Anthony Marshall, with runner up Carlos Lopez. Great job guys!

While a win is a win, and the Rebels are now a respectable 10-2 with no bad losses, optimism is hard to come by when the next challenge is playing Illinois (10-0) at the United Center on Saturday afternoon. With the exception of three Rebels, the team appears to still be playing with shaken confidence,  and energy only on short bursts. Coach Rice must find a way to rectify those issues to have a chance at avenging last year’s tournament matchup disaster, and he only has a few days to do it. Surely, Illinois will be prepared in case the Rebels that beat North Carolina and battled UCSB show up in Chicago, and hopefully it will be an exciting afternoon of Rebel basketball.  


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