Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Overtime finally bites us in the ass: UNLV blows big lead and loses to TCU 102-97

Anger, clear thinking, big picture, anger, clear thinking big picture. These are the emotions I am feeling right now over UNLVs major letdown this evening, giving away what should have been an easy victory over TCU. I am glad I only DVR’d the game (thanks for the early start MWC) and had some wine during this one.

Anger – The Rebels had an 18 point lead with 14:09 left in the second half. The Rebels were stroking the three ball very well, and although runs were a dominant feature in the game, they heavily favored UNLV. Multiple news articles made light of the fact that UNLV was a bad road team, and having beaten SDSU and rematching with lowly TCU was the perfect storm to capitalize on the road. The horror of seeing this year’s Rebel team look like last year’s, with going cold from three occurring more and more frequently . Suddenly, the #11 team is not only the ‘team to beat’ which gets opponents psyched up to play us, but now we are plausibly beatable (because Wyoming and TCU have done it). I hate that we are in this position.

Clear thinking, big picture – The Rebels will still be ranked after this loss, and may still be ranked if we lose in New Mexico. What’s at stake right now is purely seeding. Thankfully the Rebels have done enough to earn a spot in the tournament, and if we can string together 3 wins we are in the sweet 16, and 4 and we are in the elite 8. Some critical players actually played quite well for the Rebels tonight, Oscar Bellfield is still the same reliable player over the last few games, despite the outcome. Chace Stanback was stroking threes like nobody’s business, and shows some much needed aggression with a sweet turnaround jumper. Brice Massamba was still a beast. No matter how great people believe the Rebels are or should be, this is still a team that is running a new offense, with an entirely new coaching staff – there will be growing pains, and there will be upsets.

Why we lost the game:

Hank Thorns Jr. – We all hoped that lessons were learned from the two bad losses we had in the non-conference season, first to Whichita State, and then to Wisconsin. In both games, an opposing player – usually a non-star went absolutely nuts with their jump shot and UNLV did nothing to stop them from fireing away unimpeded. Hank Thorns Jr. had 32 points and had 8 three pointers. Clearly, the defensive assisgnment was mishandled by the Rebels for allowing him to play far better than he is on paper. New Mexico has plenty of guys who can go off, obviously the lesson was unlearned and this man single handedly pushed his team to victory. For a defensive team such as the Rebels with so many athletic players, we should do better.
Rebounding – Runnin’ Rebels basketball starts with defense, but rebounding is what sets up fast break transition basketball. Take a look at this chart, you’ll notice we completely dropped the ball (no pun intended) in the latter part of the game, coincdently right when TCU erased our lead and pushed us to overtime. Look hard at this.

Steals – Steals lead to turnovers, which lead to easy baskets. When the Rebels play Rebel basketball, key players make a lot of steals and we win the game. TCU was the one this game with their hand in the cookie jar. Again, look at the chart – watch how the steals coincide with the Rebels blowing their lead and TCU taking the victory.

Field goals – UNLV shot better than TCU percentage wise. In the SDSU UNLV game this past Saturday, the Rebels shot much worse than the Aztecs. When you have a team shoot worse yet win the game, the only logical conclusion is that they wanted it more. They out hustled, and got second chance looks far more times than their opponent. Look at this graph. Had we wanted it more, we would have won the game.

Runnin’ – I don’t know what to make of it, this is a game where TCU allowed the Rebels to run and play Rebel basketball for quite a long time, hence the 97 points by UNLV. This is the first loss by the Rebels where the opponent didn’t try to slow down the Runnin’ Rebel offense. Point wise, this was one of the better outings of the year. It’s a head scratcher, but without digging too deep we were successful on offense but lazy (or unlucky) on defense.

The clear message is that the Rebels may very well win  the elusive MWC championship because it is our home floor, but being a lousy road team is going to hurt come tournament time and could make us upset prone. If the Rebels win in New Mexico this weekend on national TV, then the bleeding will stop, but fundamental systematic changes need to be made, and I believe that begins with not relying on the lowest percentage shot in basketball to win your games for you – let the two 6’8” guys (Stanback and Moser) attack the rim or develop a short game, it’s the only way to avoid last years pitfalls. 

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