UNLV BASKETBALL:

Kantowski: With loss, it’s all about three days in March

Too Little, Too Late

UNLV rallied from a 14-point halftime deficit against Utah, cut the lead to two late in the second half, but could not complete the comeback. The Rebels lost to the Utes 70-60 Wednesday night in Salt Lake City.

UNLV vs. Utah

Rene Rougeau goes up against the much taller Luke Nevill of Utah as UNLV takes on Utah Wednesday night at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City.   Utah defeated UNLV 70-60, making the series even on the season. Launch slideshow »
The Rebel Room

UTAH POSTGAME: Sloppy from the start

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Ryan Greene, Rob Miech and Ron Kantowski discuss UNLV's mess of a 70-60 loss at Utah on Wednesday night at the Huntsman Center. The guys talk about what Utah did right, what UNLV did pretty wrong, and expand on other topics such as the upcoming Mountain West Tournament and what both teams' NCAA hopes look like following the season's second meeting.

Utah Breakdown

Alex Adeyanju and Rob Miech discussed what when wrong for UNLV in their loss to Utah.

Box score

SALT LAKE CITY -- It would have been nice had the Rebels not gotten blown away during an 18-4 Utah run just before halftime; would have been nice had somebody other than René Rougeau shown up with the idea of playing all 40 minutes; would have been nice, after they somehow clawed their way back to within two points with 2:56 to play, had somebody gotten a hand in Luka Drca's face.

Would have been nice, but, in a way, really doesn't matter that much now.

Now it's really, really, really, really official.

Now it really does all come down to three days in March.

To paraphrase Don McLean, February made the Rebels shiver with every jump shot and free throw they delivered. It was an American Pie in the face.

The most inconsistent team in the Mountain West Conference -- that would be the Rebels -- were officially eliminated from conference championship contention here Wednesday night by the hottest team in the league -- that would be Utah.

If you were scoring at home, or watching the Rebels bicker with one another during timeouts, the final was 70-60, and it really wasn't that close, at least most of the way. But part of the way, toward the end, it actually was a lot closer, although if you look at the stat sheet, how the Rebels were able to briefly battle their way back into it is probably a bigger mystery than the Shroud of Turin.

The Rebels were outshot, outrebounded, out-assisted (if that's a word) and outplayed in most aspects of the game, although they did make 15 of 16 free throws (woo-hoo!), including the first 13 they shot, and committed just seven turnovers. Utah, which hasn't lost since the Rebels beat them 75-65 at the Thomas & Mack Center on Jan. 24, was guilty of 20.

But the Rebels had no answer for Luke Nevill, the Utes' 7-foot-2 center, early in the game. That doesn't make them unique, but when they started to double the big guy in the post, he or one of his teammates kicked the ball out to the perimeter for wide-open 3-point looks.

This Utah team, like most Utah teams, is pretty good at converting those.

Utah knocked down 8 of 14 from beyond the arc, with four of those coming during the decisive run that saw a 20-20 game turn into a 38-24 one by halftime.

The Utes were like that old Army football team -- Mr. Inside, Mr. Outside. Nevill, with 19 points, 13 rebounds and three blocked shots, was Doc Blanchard. While Utah had a bunch of Glenn Davises, Shaun Green, the best sixth man in the Mountain West, scored 12 points and hit three from beyond the 3-point stripe, including two in that huge run before the break.

But it was Nevill who set the tone. It's always Nevill who sets the tone. UNLV coach Lon Kruger tried a lot of different guys on him, including two at once and even 6-foot-3 Mareceo Rutledge all by his lonesome during one stretch in the second half.

Over the years, the Huntsman Center has hosted 75 NCAA tournament games. It has been the site of some classic one-on-one matchups, including Magic vs. Bird in the 1979 NCAA championship game. But Nevill vs. Rutledge wasn't the latest one.

"You always have to give him that little extra attention," Kruger said about Nevill's presence in the paint. "But I just didn't think we were dictating much during that (18-4) stretch. They had their way, doing what they wanted to do.

"We created a deficit and couldn't get quite back over the hump."

But the Rebels, who fell to 20-8 and 8-6 in the conference and are now a lot closer to sixth-place Wyoming than they are first-place Utah (20-7, 11-2) in the standings, clawed and scratched and bit and chewed -- especially Rougeau, who led the Rebels with 19 points -- and somehow pulled themselves right up next to that hump.

Then Drca, the Serbian sharpshooter, attempted his only 3-pointer of the game and it found the bottom of the net. Wink Adams, who might have played his worst game of the year, dribbled the ball off his chest at the other end.

In two trips down the floor the Rebels were right back out of a game that it had taken them about 42 trips down the floor to get back into.

"I thought we were more aggressive defensively, I thought we got up into it more, forced some turnovers during that time, converted on the offensive end and I thought we got back to where we dictated a little bit defensively," Kruger said about the final 10 minutes during which the Rebels finally came to life.

Yes, they did all those things. But they still lost by 10. That'll happen when you play good teams on the road. Just ask the Utes. It happened to them on Jan. 24.

It could happen again during those three days in March.

It might even be the fifth-place Rebels who do it.

Then again, it might not.

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  1. I feel bad for Wink this season. He has been so up and down. After watching him play some great ball last year and make clutch shots and free throws, I would have never guessed that he would struggle this much this year. 3-12 from the field for 9 points against Utah is just not going to get it done, especially after leading the team in scoring last year. Hopefully he can get on a hot streak for the conference tourney and keep this team out of the NIT.

  2. Lenny: That's the thing. It could still happen, the Rebels are still capable of winning three in a row at the Mack but if you're a fan, you'd feel a little better if they had a few games to build a little momentum going in. That opportunity is basically gone.

    Runnin': Wink is still to the go-to guy because he's about the only Rebel who can create a shot. He's been such a good player and class act, that yeah, you'd like to see him go out with a flourish during the tournament.

    We'll see I guess. We've been saying that a lot about this team during the past month.

  3. It has been an interesting season thats for sure. I have enjoyed watching Running Rebels Basketball over my years as a student, I have seen the program grow tremendously since starting school in 2002. I will always be a rebel fan and hope for the best, no matter how they turn out. Im graduating this May and will most likely be moving away for a job, but I will miss seeing these guys play in the T&M. Watching them on TV will not be the same, but fun none the less. The positive side is that this team will only improve over the years and return to the National Stage, where they belong. Lon Kruger is the best man for the job and will bring back the glory days.