UNLV BASKETBALL:

Kantowski: Winning ugly is better than losing in overtime

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Justin M. Bowen

The Rebels huddle during a break in the action as UNLV took on the TCU Horned Frogs Tuesday at the Thomas & Mack Center.

Feeling the Pressure

With post-season hopes looming, UNLV used a full-court press and a 23-2 run to help avenge a January loss to TCU by beating the Horned Frogs 71-57 Tuesday night.

UNLV vs. TCU

The UNLV defense presses TCU as UNLV took on the TCU Horned Frogs Tuesday at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. Launch slideshow »
The Rebel Room

TCU POSTGAME: The press and the enigma

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Ryan Greene and Rob Miech discuss UNLV's 71-57 defeat of TCU, which involved the smaller Rebels lineup applying staunch defensive pressure on the inexperienced Horned Frogs. The guys also dissect one of Wink Adams' steadier performances of the year, the enigma known as Tre'Von Willis and what's up next for Lon Kruger's 18-6 ball club.

Box score

Beyond the Sun

No overtime. No missed shots at the buzzer. No game-altering technical fouls. No drama (OK, maybe there was a little drama at the start).

No complaints.

The Rebels beat TCU 71-57 Tuesday night in front of a crowd of 12,176 at the Thomas & Mack Center that appeared almost as disinterested as they were, at least at the start.

It wasn't a foregone conclusion the Rebels would win, but only because they somehow allowed the Horned Frogs to put an 80-73 wart on them in Fort Worth on Jan. 10 and played the first nine minutes of the rematch as if Walgreens was out of Compound W.

Then Wink Adams stopped throwing the ball to the guys in the purple shirts and all was well again.

Adams, who led the Rebels with 21 points but turned the ball over three times and was benched early, scored 10 during a massive 23-2 run that put the guys in the white shirts ahead to stay. Massive 23-2 runs are like ATMs. They can fix any emergency.

After that, the only drama was whether the Rebels and the woman in the maroon jacket seated on Gucci Row could stay out of the way of Zvonko Buljan long enough to avoid being trampled.

Buljan, who set a Mountain West record for clenched-fist salutes during TCU's upset of the Rebels in January, handled the basketball as if it were covered with porcupine needles. He committed six of the Frogs' whopping 26 turnovers as he and his teammates kept smacking into things while trying to retrieve the balls he put on the floor or threw into the stands.

That poor woman in the front row got run into three times.

I didn't notice if she was booing when the Rebels fell behind 17-7 nine minutes into the game. But a lot of other people were.

"We opened horribly," UNLV coach Lon Kruger said during his postgame remarks, as if he needed to remind anybody. "We didn't take care of the ball but it was one of those type of games where it was frantic both ways."

Said UNLV's Joe Darger, who heard those boos loud and clear and scored 14 first-half points: "We got a little loose with the ball and did some things we don't normally do."

The Rebels (18-6, 6-4) were guilty of 21 turnovers but, as Kruger noted, theirs came in bunches at the beginning and at the end. In the middle, they were a little less frantic.

It wasn't a very fun game to watch. It wasn't artistic. It wasn't even color by numbers. But the Rebels weren't seeking a masterpiece or style points after the week that just was. They lost an overtime game to San Diego State at home and lost another overtime game to New Mexico on the road and needed to beat somebody, anybody in the worst way.

The Frogs (13-11, 4-6), who were playing well a couple of weeks ago but aren't now, hopped into town at the right time.

"Much needed win after a week of ... disappointing losses," Kruger said.

The Rebels will play Colorado State on Saturday night, another of the Mountain West minnows they somehow managed to lose to in Fort Collins right after losing to TCU in Fort Worth. That should also be a much-needed win, especially if the Rebels can extend their defense the way they did against TCU.

It looks like the four-guard lineup is here to stay and nobody's complaining, with the possible exception of big men Darris Santee and Brice Massamba. And if they're complaining it had better not be too loudly, because it is apparent the smaller lineup gives the Rebels the best chance to win.

Santee played six minutes Tuesday night. Massamba played one and looked like he wasn't even expecting to get into the game because when he entered it, his shirt wasn't tucked in.

The Rebels have been leading up to the small-ball look for a couple of weeks now but seemed to make it official against TCU. They also showed a new wrinkle by pressing the Horned Frogs pretty much from start to finish.

Pressure plus poor ball handling equals 26 turnovers. But it should have been just 25. Late in the first half, Buljan threw a blind behind the head pass for no apparent reason. Maybe he was trying to impress the Harlem Globetrotters, who are playing at the Orleans tonight.

"That's the lineup we played with all of last year," Kruger said about going small. "We feel right now, that's the lineup that gives us the most production. We haven't rebounded well with any lineup, so it's not as if our rebounding is off because of it."

Well, it was a little more off against TCU as the Frogs collected 17 offensive rebounds. The only UNLV opponents to get more this year were Arizona and Cincinnati.

But I suppose another way to look at it is when the other team gets a bunch of offensive rebounds it means it also is missing a lot of shots. Surely, the Rebels' defensive pressure had something to do with that.

Anybody who believes the Rebels were struggling coming into the TCU game probably is still a little concerned the team isn't totally back on track. On the other hand, if you're one of those who believe the losses to San Diego State and New Mexico could have just as easily been wins, then you probably went home satisfied.

Unless you were that woman in the maroon jacket on Gucci Row. Then you also went home with a bruise and a floor burn.

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  1. A small lineup gives the rebels the best chance to win? I think were 1-2 when Kruger started 4 guards.

  2. Young:

    But also just two baskets from being 3-0.