Thursday, March 15, 2012

The little engine that couldn’t: UNLV played like the underdog and couldn’t overcome deficiencies, lost 68-64 to Colorado

The wheels have been loose all conference schedule, oh the humanity!

The perfect opportunity to advance in the NCAA tournament was squandered by the Rebels tonight. So many stars had aligned to make the path easier – matching us up with a Pac 12 opponent, putting us in a very familiar and close venue, giving us a not well deserved 6 seeding. The problem is when the Rebels play the way they played as of recent, they lose basketball games. Tonight the Buffalos bested the Rebels, and our season is over.

Looking at the faces of the Rebels at the start of the game, nobody really looked excited. The only player I saw even look at ease, was Anthony Marshall. After the Rebels by Massamba won the tip-off, the only offense to come for the longest time was from Brice, with two layups to give the Rebels 4 points. In the meantime, the Buffalos had the hot hand and simply tore through the Rebels defense. The early part of the game essentially went like this, Rebel player shoots a three – misses, Colorado rebounds the ball and scores. The biggest early lead by the Buffalos was 19-7 with 9:51 to go in the first half. The Rebels got it down to 4 with about five minutes left, but then Colorado pushed the lead out to 11 to finish the half.

The problems UNLV encountered were numerous and not at all unfamiliar. A large part of the Rebels offense was run by way of kick out threes. These attempts remained only attempts. The Rebels couldn’t buy a rebound, no rebounds means two things – no second chance points, more opportunities for the other team to score the basket. Coach Rice’s ‘Runnin’ Rebels’ looked more like Coach Kruger’s half court Rebels, minus the efficient defense. When these Rebels don’t run, only one guy can create his own shot – Anthony Marshall. Everyone else looks quite uncomfortable shooting in that style of offense. For the half, the Rebels shot 27% versus the Buffalos 50%, over half of the shot attempts were three point attempts (16 of 29), and the Rebels were out rebounded 27 to 12. With numbers like these, the Rebels were lucky only to be down 11 points at the half, you would expect 20.

Coach Rice was interviewed after coming back from halftime, and said the Rebels would come back – a seemingly unbelievable statement given the state of play earlier in the game. But, the Rebels eventually did make a run and closed the gap considerably. But, it would have to get worse before it got better.

The Rebels further squandered their 11 point hole by posting only 2 points in the first five minutes of the second half. Looking very much like a continuation of the first half, Colorado pushed the lead to 20 points, 49-29. Many likely called it a day when they saw what was happening – hell I was tempted to try and watch Tower Heist to cleanse my eyes of this horror. But I didn’t, I couldn’t – I watch every game including garbage time, and this may have been the last garbage time of the season. But it was not.

With about 10 minutes left, the lackadaisical Rebels did what the announcing crew said they should be doing from the beginning of the second half – play full court trapping defense. Once the Rebels did it, turnovers came in bunches. Once the turnovers came, the Rebels scored. They scored so much that they had a 14-1 run and brought the score to within 2 points, 57-55 on a Justin Hawkins 3 pointer.

So 2 point game, 5 minutes to go, momentum on the Rebels side – completely doable. Incorrect assumption. From this point out the Rebels for whatever reason abandoned all that worked for them during the 14-1 run and again played man-to-man half court defense. The result, while it was close and within reach for the rest of the game, it would take epic failures the likes of what was seen in the First Four to get us to the promised land. Most everything that was working during the 14-1 run vanished, and we were stuck in a 1-2 possession game  for the remainder of the game.

As for final statistics;
Shooting UNLV - 32%, Colorado 45% (UNLV jacked up 23 more shot attempts than Colorado!);
Rebounding: UNLV 33, Colorado 46
Assists: UNLV 13, Colorado 12
Blocks: UNLV 8, Colorado 3
Steals: UNLV 14, Colorado 4
Turnovers: UNLV 8, Colorado 23

Along the way in this aggravating game were some good things. Various Rebels, Justin Hawkins, Anthony Marshall, and Carlos Lopez all were successful in goating fouls or giving up their bodies in the name of drawing offensive fouls. Anthony Marshall had a dominant block and a circus shot layup near the end of the game. Mike Moser intercepted an inbounds pass and nearly pulled off a sweet pass back on a steal to Bellfield, but Bellfield was poked in the eye and not ready to receive said pass, resulting in a giveback.
This is essentially how we lost 68-64 to the Colorado Buffalos in the struggling Pac-12. In the coming days lots of data will be up about this game, and various aspects will be highlighted as areas for improvement. Too fed up right now to name Reign Men, that will come later when a little time has passed.

While the Rebels made it again to the dance, and won 26 games in the process, it is a bitter sweet day when you lose in the first round of the tournament as the 6 seed to an 11 seed. The little engine that couldn’t showed up today, hopefully it will retire and leave far more exiciting times ahead. Congrats to the Rebels for a great season, and for putting together a run in this game and at least making it interesting,

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