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Rebels stumble down stretch, fall at TCU, 80-73

Final, TCU wins 80-73

FORT WORTH -- The two areas of UNLV's record which were perfect coming into the weekend -- their records on the road and in conference -- both took hits on Saturday afternoon, as the Rebels dropped a 80-73 decision to TCU at Daniel-Meyer Coliseum.

UNLV (13-3 overall, 1-1 Mountain West) led by as many as nine points in the second half, at one point holding a 57-48 edge. But TCU ripped off a 15-0 run to respond, and though UNLV would tie the game at 67-67 with minutes to play, the Rebels sputtered down the stretch. A technical foul call against René Rougeau with 30 seconds left was the final straw.

UNLV was an efficient 25-of-50 from the floor on the afternoon, but played most of the game without much of an inside presence. Sophomore guard Tre'Von Willis replaced junior forward Darris Santee in the starting lineup, and Santee played just six minutes total. His backup -- freshman Brice Massamba -- never took off his warmup, giving him his first 'DNP' of his collegiate career.

Without much of an inside scoring option, UNLV opted for a slew of 3-point looks. They were 15-of-34 from long range, including five connections from Joe Darger and four from Kendall Wallace.

But TCU was much too well-rounded offensively for the Rebels to handle. The Horned Frogs won the 'points in the paint' battle, 32-14, and hit six 3-pointers of their own. Zvonko Buljan led the way for TCU with 20 points and 13 rebounds. Edvinas Ruzgas scored 18 for the Horned Frogs, who improved to 11-5 on the season and 2-0 in Mountain West play.

It was sweet revenge for TCU first-year coach Jim Christian, who lost to UNLV in the first round of last season's NCAA Tournament while he was at Kent State. His team scored just 10 points in the first half of that game, but on Saturday made it three straight games with 80-plus.

UNLV was led by 15 points from Darger, while Rougeau and Wallace scored 12 apiece.

The loss snapped UNLV's eight-game win streak. The Rebels will have a chance to start a new one on Wednesday night at Colorado State in a 6 p.m. PST tip-off.

For complete postgame coverage, including stories, stats, photos and The Rebel Room: Postgame Edition, stay tuned to www.lasvegassun.com/rebels.

3:41, second half, game tied 67-67

FORT WORTH -- Of all the inconsistencies UNLV has faced today -- spotty shooting, a lack of an inside presence, etc. -- Kendall Wallace has been pretty constant. He popped up again just now, hitting his fourth 3-pointer (in four tries), then dished a nifty assist to René Rougeau following a steal for a bucket, and just like that, UNLV has come back to tie TCU, 67-67.

Wallace had back-to-back steals, and he's helped the Rebels all but forget about that 15-0 run TCU put on them after they were leading 57-48.

UNLV is in good shape heading into the final three minutes to escape with a win. But, still, there are plenty of questions that will need answering after this one.

10:48, second half, UNLV leads 57-56

FORT WORTH -- The Rebels appeared to be on the verge of cruise control just a couple of minutes ago. Wink Adams hit a 3-pointer, René Rougeau snapped his offensive drought with an old school 3-point play, and then dropped in two more off of a Joe Darger hustle play.

The Rebels led by nine, and now, just a couple of minutes later, again lead by just one point.

Jason Ebie has paced an 8-0 TCU run, and Lon Kruger is getting more and more vocal on the UNLV sideline, as the fans on hand are beginning to toughen the atmosphere, too.

UNLV's lack of an inside presence today is pretty obvious, as TCU continues to just attack the paint time after time. Darris Santee just came back in and promptly picked up his third foul. Brice Massamba, meanwhile, still has yet to remove his warmup top.

Oscar Bellfield is stretching out some cramps on the sideline, to boot. UNLV is truly up against it here in the game's final 10 minutes.

15:31, second half, UNLV leads 49-48

FORT WORTH -- The Rebels have certainly taken a more well-rounded approach offensively to start off the second half, and it showed right off the bat. Oscar Bellfield hit a running floater on the right side to begin the half after UNLV attempted only four shots inside the 3-point arc before halftime.

Since then, UNLV's mixed it up. Bellfield hit a pull-up jumper, Joe Darger hit the Rebels' 11th 3-pointer of the game, and Wink Adams just hit a long two in transition to push UNLV ahead of TCU, 49-48.

Quite a change for Jim Christian, whose last game as coach at Kent State saw his team score 10 points in the first half against UNLV. Today, they already have nearly 50, and his young squad is certainly impressive.

It might be just about time for René Rougeau to get going. He hasn't scored since pouring in five points right at the start of the afternoon. It's pretty obvious that Darris Santee won't see much time today. You've got to wonder -- Is he in Kruger's dog house?

Halftime, TCU leads 40-39

FORT WORTH -- The good so far for UNLV? The Rebels have hit 10 3-pointers.

The not-so good? They haven't done much of anything else on offense, as TCU holds a 40-39 halftime edge down in Fort Worth.

The Horned Frogs came into this game offensively hot, having set season-highs for points in each of their last two games (81 in a victory over Colorado State, then 85 against Texas Tech). They've mixed it up nicely tonight, outscoring UNLV 20-6 in the paint, but also hitting four 3-pointers.

UNLV started the game with a smaller lineup, replacing Darris Santee with Tre'Von Willis. Santee has played only three minutes today, and Brice Massamba has yet to take off his warmups. The Rebels are 10-of-17 from 3-point range, and have only taken four shot attempts from inside the arc. They're 3-of-4 in that department.

A weird offensive half, indeed.

Some other numbers of note from the game's first 20 minutes ...

-The Rebels are 13-of-23 from the floor in the first half, and 10-of-19 from deep. Kendall Wallace is 3-of-3 from 3-point range.

-Wink Adams is just 1-of-3 from the floor, and only really took it hard to the hole one time. You wonder if the abdominal deal is in his head at all. On the other hand, he does have seven of UNLV's 11 assists.

-The Rebels are being outrebounded 15-11, which isn't an awful margin, but they've allowed TCU seven offensive boards and 10 second chance points. That can't make Kruger happy.

-TCU has 11 assists to just three turnovers, which has been key to maintaining this steady flow of offense.

It's going to be interesting to find out the reason for this rotation. I mean, Kruger isn't a stranger to benching a guy to wake him up a bit, but Santee only played three minutes. That's just a wild stat. The Rebels are giving up plenty of offense inside and are getting outrebounded. The numbers don't show the rebounding differential. UNLV's just giving up a lot, and I mean A LOT, of size in the paint.

It's not that they haven't defended well. TCU is hitting shots, plain and simple.

This will be a very interesting second half, indeed.

2:38, first half, UNLV leads 36-34

FORT WORTH -- Kendall Wallace is the latest Rebel to get into the 3-point act, but has done so in grander fashion than anyone else in a red uniform. The sophomore gunner has hit all three of his attempts from long range, and it's helped UNLV keep TCU at arm's length, 36-34.

Since his first stint off the bench, Darris Santee hasn't been back in the game, and Brice Massamba has yet to play. Hence, all the outside shots.

With a pretty distinct size advantage on the floor, TCU is mixing its offense up nicely, shooting nine 3-pointers so far, but also crashing the lane at will. The Horned Frogs have outscored the Rebels in the paint so far, 14-6.

On the other end, UNLV is 12-of-19 from the floor, but 16 of those attempts are 3-pointers. A very un-UNLV-like showing so far.

7:54, first half, UNLV leads 24-22

FORT WORTH -- Well, those back-to-back full breaks, with a 20-second timeout mixed in between them, certainly did slow things down a bit, as UNLV has had to grind out the 24-22 edge it holds on TCU with 7:54 to play in the first half.

The Rebels have begun to temper themselves on the 3-point attempts, as they're now 5-of-10, with five different players having connected so far. The latest to do so was Mo Rutledge, who hit his first look off the bench.

Darris Santee showed a quick flash on the offensive end, which may have been prompted by his demotion out of the starting rotation. He took an entry pass moments ago, and took a hard bounce, then applied a nice, aggressive spin move against Kevin Langford, resulting in a hoop with a foul tacked on. He missed the free throw, but showed more of the aggressive nature that I'm sure the coaches would like him to display with the ball in his hands.

So far, UNLV is 8-of-13 from the floor.

12:55, first half, UNLV leads 17-15

FORT WORTH -- One thing is for certain with UNLV's smaller starting lineup -- They were looking to score big early. The Rebels have already attempted eight 3-pointers in the game's first seven minutes, jetting to a 17-15 lead.

What's kept TCU neck-and-neck is the 3 deep balls the Horned Frogs have already hit, in a start to the game which hasn't featured much inside presence on either end.

UNLV is scrapping for offensive rebounds, though, with its smaller set. Both René Rougeua and Joe Darger have gone up in crowds to tap the ball back out to the perimeter. They did so twice on one particular possession, which included 3-point misses by both Darger and Oscar Bellfield.

The school record for 3-point attempts in a game, FYI, is 46.

Darris Santee checked into the game for the Rebels at the first full break -- which came about 3 minutes later than usual -- after getting a pep talk from Lon Kruger before heading in.

The timing of the first media timeout could slow the pace of this game down quite a bit. There will also be one at the first stoppage of play inside the 12-minute mark.

Also, a quick congrats to TCU's Kevin Langford, who passed the 1,000-point barrier for his TCU career with his first bucket of the day -- giving him 1,001.

His mom is sitting in the front row, and his mom held up a big, purple, '1,000' sign after the milestone was achieved. It's a good family. I had the pleasure of covering and getting to know his older brother, Keith, in my time in Kansas.

Pregame ... yet again

FORT WORTH -- Lon Kruger's maybe trying something new to wake up his struggling big men. Sophomore guard Tre'Von Willis is starting in place of junior forward Darris Santee, giving UNLV a smaller-than-normal starting five.

That makes the starting lineup: Bellfield, Adams, Willis, Darger, Rougeau.

They're obviously looking to start this game fast. They're probably more effective this way.

Pregame, Part Deux

FORT WORTH -- OK, I sort of take back the 'untested' remark about TCU. They're only sort of untested.

The Horned Frogs, 10-5 coming in, have played some decent competition. They won at Colorado by 16, played Indiana within 10 points at Assembly Hall and lost by just 12 to Clemson -- one of three undefeated teams left in Division I.

They also beat a second Big 12 foe -- Texas Tech -- their last time out.

Another pregame note involves Rob Miech having a change of heart. He's switching from Tr'Von Willis over to Wink Adams for his pick to click. Adams stroked 21 of his 39 3-point attempts in pregame warmups, and looks ready to get back to full form.

There's now too many people in the stands for a hand count, but it wouldn't be impossible. I'd say about 2,000 people here. Maybe.

Pregame

FORT WORTH -- In its Mountain West opener a week ago, UNLV looked sluggish in a two-point squeaker over New Mexico.

Maybe the best cure for that is a road trip to cap a week of no games?

There's not many teams you can say that about, but Lon Kruger's club certainly appears to be one of them. The Rebels are a perfect 4-0 on the road this season, most recently knocking off then-No. 18 Louisville on New Year's Eve, 56-55.

Why is that? Who knows. Maybe they like sleeping in the Marriott's beds. Your guess is as good as mine.

Either way, the Rebels are comfortable playing anywhere. They're so comfortable today that they didn't arrive here to the Daniel-Meyer Coliseum until just moments ago. Kendall Wallace was the first player to emerge from the tunnel to shoot around ... with 50 minutes left until tip-off.

UNLV has no reason not to be confident today. The Horned Frogs come in at 10-5, but are relatively untested under first-year coach Jim Christian.

Christian, of course, coached Kent State the previous six years. The Rebels held the Golden Flashes to 10 first-half points a year ago in their first-round NCAA Tournament romp in Omaha.

It's a pretty small arena here (capacity 7,201) and the fan base seems pretty luke warm. The Horned Frogs have barely averaged over 3,000 fans per home game this season, and only -- hold on, let me count them -- 47 are here right now. Four of them are wearing UNLV gear. Not very intimidating.

As for the ball yard, it's a quaint little joint on a quaint -- yet pleasantly scenic -- campus. A bit chillier than normal down here in the metroplex today, too. But, that doesn't really matter, I guess. Just thought it was worth pointing out.

I'm obviously running out of stuff to talk about.

Now on to today's three big predictions ...

1) Picks to click... Miech is taking Tre'Von Willis, who will again be coming off the bench after starting the last two games in Wink Adams' place. Adams is expected to start again today, following his strained abdominal woes. I'll go ahead and take Kendall Wallace. I'm doing so because I remember watching my alma mater -- Kansas -- play here back in the 2003-04 season, I believe, and little-used Jeff Hawkins came off the bench to spark the Jayhawks to a win with 19 points, including more threes that day alone than I think he hit the rest of his career. Kendall fits the bill, though he's a much better shooter than Hawk was.

2) TCU will score more than 10 points in the first half. I mean, they have to, right?

3) Wink Adams improves to 7-0 for his career in Texas -- UNLV 72, TCU 57. Oddly, neither Miech or I picked him to click. I guess we're branching out in our old ages.

Talk to you after tip.

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  1. Game over for the most part. If I was TCU I would foul UNLV every possesion now, cuz they suck at free throws. I don't even know what team I'm watching right now, cuz it isn't UNLV.

  2. how do you beat louisville away and lose to TCU? This team is so up and down its rediculous. I cant believe these kids cant make a free throw its pathetic! Thats why they call them free!

  3. Coach Kruger,

    I won't try to coach the team from the comfort of my keyboard, but I will say this:

    Free throws, free throws, free throws. Free throws, free throws, free throws. Free throws, free throws, free throws. Free throws, free throws, free throws. Free throws, free throws, free throws. Free throws, free throws, free throws. Free throws, free throws, free throws. Free throws, free throws, free throws. Free throws, free throws, free throws. Free throws, free throws, free throws. Free throws, free throws, free throws.

    And don't start Rougeau next game. That was a childish move at the end that sealed it.

    -Rebel Fan since '77

  4. our much-touted new big men sure have stunk this season, and without em, we're too small and have no depth. tournament team? doesn't look like one, right now, but......

  5. very discouraging loss. Where was the defensive intensity? Why cant we hit a free throw? Hopefully this is just a hiccup and the Rebs will come back strong.

  6. Free throw shooting and rebounds has been a problem all season. If they don't have it fixed by now they will never get it fixed. The softness in the middle is so obvious. It's so easy to coach against the Rebs. Just go through the middle and then pack it in for the rebound. Our bigs will surely back away. To top it off of course is the terrible shooting. I want to see more DeShawn Mitchell at the wing and more Darger in the middle. It was Cincy all over again!

  7. Hey guys,

    Yeah, defensive intensity was missing, which is not typical of Kruger teams, as you all know. That offense was pretty strange to watch in the first half. 23 shot attempts, and 19 of them were from 3-point range.

    It's hard to tell what was going on with the big men situation. You could chalk it up and say maybe Kruger was trying to send Santee and Massamba a message as Santee only played six minutes and Brice never took off his warmup top. Or maybe there's something more there. Either way, this team needs some kind of a consistent inside presence. A few weeks ago, against Arizona and Santa Clara, it looked like it'd be there.

    Remember, this seasons is still relatively young, but this loss certainly unearthed more than a couple of question marks.

    And, RPJ, as for Rougeau's technical, it looked like it was a lot of acting on Buljan's part. We were sitting about 20 feet away, and Rene grabbed him to foul him, then held him up, and Buljan just squirmed free with a little bit of dramatic effect. Don't think it was anything childish at all.

  8. Funny, a lot coming from those whom only days ago were heralding this team as a sure bet into NCAA's to make noise. The min they see any adversity they dive off the "bandwagon" like they were never on!.....I've said this before, conference play is a whole other beast and UNLV is going to have tough games every time they lace up against a MWC foe. NO MWC GAME WILL BE EASY! UNLV has a target on their back in this league; this game deff is a learning lesson and wake up call indeed. Remember we just need to take care of home and steal at least 2 out of the Utah, BYU, SDSU & NM away games. Lenny I would go so far yet to say that winning the MWC tourney is the only way UNLV will get into the NCAA's., especially only 2 games into league play!

  9. I agree with you SMB. Those thuds you hear are the people falling off the bandwagon. The pre-season expectations were based on a UNLV team with a strong middle presence. Right now, this team has NO middle presence, and to top it off, we are one of the worst free throw shooting teams in the league. UNLV right now is an "exposed sitting duck". Road games are going to be damn near impossible to win, and I bet we will struggle at home too, like we did against New Mexico. That is why it is more important than ever before to "Pack the Mack" EVERY HOME GAME.
    On a positive note, this team somehow performs better when its back is against the wall. The loss to TCU this early in the conference play may be the spark that gets this team going again.
    Let's get out there and support this team, folks.