UNLV BASKETBALL:

TCU hands Rebels first loss on the road

UNLV gives up late lead to fall 80-73, snapping eight-game streak

The Rebel Room

TCU POSTGAME: Rebels fall after playing small

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Ryan Greene and Rob Miech discuss UNLV's first Mountain West loss of the season, as the Rebels fell to TCU on Saturday afternoon in Fort Worth, 80-73. The guys talk about just what went wrong after Lon Kruger went with a smaller lineup to start the game, then stuck with it for much of the afternoon. Plus, a look a bit down the road at just how UNLV can make up for their first league stumble. Also, is TCU for real in the MWC race?

Box score

FORT WORTH, Texas – Free throws, tight defense and shutting down certain TCU inbounds plays were priorities that UNLV coach Lon Kruger stressed to his players all week.

But the Rebels went on spring break early.

They failed in each of those areas Saturday night in an 80-73 defeat to the Horned Frogs that snapped an eight-game winning streak.

Understand, UNLV coach Lon Kruger implored at practice Monday, he would raise the bar A LOT. Instead, that bar was lowered a few notches.

“We really didn’t stick to the game plan,” said senior guard Wink Adams, a Houston native who ends his collegiate career 6-1 in Texas and 15-1 against teams from the Lone Star State.

“When you give up 56 percent shooting, you can’t live with that,” Kruger said. “We just still don’t understand we have to make it tougher for other people to score.”

TCU (11-5, 2-0 in the Mountain West Conference) connected on 56.6 percent of its shots, the first time a UNLV foe has hit more than half of its attempts this season.

Three Rebels opponents did that last season, and two wound up with double-digit victories –- including eventual national champion Kansas in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

The one that shot better than 50 percent and still lost to UNLV? TCU, in a conference tournament quarterfinal.

This Horned Frogs squad, though, has more of a bite, starting with new coach Jim Christian.

After the Frogs won at Texas Tech on Tuesday, Christian redesigned many of his schemes, including screens, combinations and inside penetration.

When Kruger started a four-guard lineup with power forward Joe Darger down low, and only had one center (Darris Santee) play six total minutes, that played into Christian’s plans.

UNLV (13-3, 1-1) got pounded inside, where TCU had a 32-14 edge.

“We only had two days,” Christian said, “but we executed pretty well, in my opinion.”

In the opinion of many Rebels, too.

“It’s frustrating to come out like that,” said senior swingman René Rougeau. “We worked on it all week. We had a tough week in practice. We have to come together.

“If we really want this, we have to come together and make sure it’s important to us. Tonight, it didn’t look like it was important to all of us.”

Rougeau and several teammates were burned on easy drives when TCU scored 15 consecutive points on UNLV midway through the second half.

A 57-48 advantage was turned into a 63-57 deficit.

The Rebels only caught up once, on Rougeau’s fastbreak layup from a Kendall Wallace feed that tied it, 67-67.

Edvinas Ruzgas hit a 3-pointer and Zvonko Buljan sailed by Rougeau for a layup that gave TCU the lead for good.

Like last week’s league opener against New Mexico, the final minute was an adventure for the Rebels. This time, however, UNLV couldn’t overcome its errors.

In the final 50 seconds, TCU hit eight of 13 free throws, two of which came via a Rougeau technical foul that put him on the bench with the fourth foul-out of his career.

It was called moments after he fouled Buljan, who had grabbed the air ball that Adams had launched on a turnaround shot in the lane.

Rougeau grabbed Buljan to stop the clock, and the 6-foot-9 forward from Croatia acted as if he were being robbed in an alley. The officials saw that drama and T’d up Rougeau.

“That’s how it goes,” Rougeau said. “I can’t comment on that. On the road, calls are made like that. I have to play smart. You have to be smarter at the end of the game.

“I can’t be fouling out.”

Buljan, known as “Z” to teammates, torched the Rebels with a game-high 20 points and 13 rebounds.

He wears white NBA socks, with his left one hiked up to his knee. He flexed and pumped his fists between free throws. He beamed afterward.

“I mean, I play emotionally,” Buljan said. “I want to win. I play basketball to win. That’s how I play. I was very jacked up. We’ve never beaten BYU before.

“I mean, UNLV. We play BYU next week. It was a good game to win, especially at home.”

UNLV sophomore guard Tre’Von Willis cut the deficit to 75-73 by nailing two free throws with 22.7 seconds left. He went five-for-seven at the line, but the rest of his teammates went three-for-nine.

A tick later, Ruzgas, a 6-6 guard from Luthuania, sank a pair of free throws, after getting fouled by UNLV reserve forward DeShawn Mitchell, for a four-point lead.

Willis found Adams on the right side and Adams misfired from 3-point range. The ball bounced high off the rim and smacked the shot clock with 15.2 seconds left.

A small but vocal Daniel-Meyer Coliseum crowd of 3,924 chanted “T-C-U! T-C-U!” as Keion Mitchem made a free throw for the Horned Frogs.

Darger and Willis missed desperation bombs, and Ronnie Moss sank two free throws to finish the scoring.

“All week in practice, we drilled defense, defense,” Darger said. “To come out here and let them do what they wanted to … I think they’re a much better TCU team than in the past.

“They outworked us.”

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  1. 2 steps forward, 3 steps back ... back to the drawing board.

  2. I won't go as far as name-calling, Lenny, but lets just say Buljan should have gotten an Oscar along with that technical call against Rougeau. We were sitting about 20 feet away from it, and Rougeau simply wrapped him up to hold him upright and keep him from falling. Buljan simply flailed around and earned that call. More credit to him.

  3. Yep Stl, back to the drawing board. Hey, Louisville, New Mexico and TCU were tight games, and UNLV won two of the three. That's fortunate, in the grand scheme. You can look at details, and there definitely seems to be something going on with this team. We'll see. But Jim Christian did a fantastic coaching job and GREAT prep work in altering what they do. Bravo

  4. Sorry Rob, I'm not so humble or giving as to give jim credit as you do. Yeah they made shots but.....that's because no one was gaurding them almost the entire game. jim claims he made alterations for the Rebels but he got lucky (as you said) with what Kruger schemed. I love Kruger and I would never turn on him after one game but what the crap! No Santee or Massamba almost at all! After he saw that the 5 guard lineup wasn't working he didn't adjust, why? We get killed on the boards every game and a 5 guard lineup is the solution? And of course last but not least, they sucked at free throws again and had they made at least their average the game would have been different. Rebel flaws won this game for tcu. I also give credit to the officials for being stupid enough to not only call the intentional on Rougeau but reviewed it for some time, saw that Bulcrap, I mean buljan acted like a big girl by exaggerating the foul, got in a parting elbow shot.... and then called it anyway!? Are they freaking blind! Everyone could see that was an Academy Award winner. No team would have recovered from that with only so much time left and already down. If anything I thought Rene showed tremendous poise by not going to town on bulcrap after he elbowed him.

    Sorry Rob, can't believe I'm saying this...but I'm going with Lenny on this one. They are clowns and I would love to see the Rebs destroy them away from their place. I mean...you'd think they'd won the National title in Texas yesterday the way they acted in post game interviews.

  5. I don't think it's a matter of you going with Lenny or me. I don't disagree with you. That Buljan incident was a joke, no doubt. But it wasn't one particular play that turned that game for TCU. That loss was probably coming.
    One-point win at Louisville. Two-point win over New Mexico. A loss at TCU. Hey, Rebels fans should be happy to take two of those three.
    There's still some things to be said about strategy in that game. No doubt. We'll see what's going on. Let's see how TCU plays at BYU this week. That'll be a test.
    In the meantime, UNLV has plenty of stuff to work on -- like it did last week. We'll see if it sinks in this week. Rankings don't mean a thing this week, right? It's about playing solid ball, and with coach Kruger that means defense. Forget everything else -- THAT is where this team better get better at real quick.

  6. Rob, the loss WAS coming. It could have been won, but this team has always rattled off 5 to 8 wins and then experiences a let down. Arizona & Louisville were a part of that streak. They were running on empty, but they had better bounce back with another streak. Maybe that means a win in Provo, I will take a loss here in exchange for a W there anyday.

    I almost started to berate Lon for the small lineup, but then you have to stop and think of why those two were reduced to minimal roles. Remember, Lon rewards those who work hard. It's obvious our bigs are slacking and perhaps this was a message to them that if you don't step up this will be the result.

    So, my take is: santee & massamba need to toughen up, a la Anthony & Essengue. If not it's going to look a lot like the vertically challenged group from a year ago.

  7. Spot on Gray. I agree with you. It was a wake-up call to the bigs. Lack of production down low, definitely. Might be deeper. Bigs, as we both know, are vital to standing up to the big boys in the NCAAs. They don't even have to be super powerful, as you noted. Just hold your own and be a road block, a nuisance to other bigs. Block some shots. More than anything, get some freakin' boards. THAT is what Kruger and his staff, especially Lew Hill, demand of those guys. When they're getting more personal fouls than boards, that doesn't cut it.

  8. If I scratch my head anymore about the strategies involved in this game, I will bleed. I have no idea what Lon was thinking, but I have to respect his decision as a coach and live with the loss AS A FAN. So rather than being negative about this game, let's look at some positives:
    1) for a stretch of about 5 minutes, UNLV came out of the half time, and played some stingy defense. We took the lead and went up by 7 or 8 points. Only to collapse back to our bad habits, and let TCU score 15 unanswered points. That 5 minutes shows the guys STILL GOT IT. The question is how do you make them play like that for 40 minutes?
    2) Kendall Wallace is emerging as a serious clutch shooter. How many huge threes has he nailed when we needed it in the last two games? He reminds me of a short Travis Bice. Get him involved more. His threes will open some lanes for Wink and others to penetrate.
    3) this team seems to play better when it's back is against the wall. In a way, I am glad we won't be ranked. And the TCU loss? That may just be the moment we got our backs against the wall. Maybe they will start playing like we KNOW they can play now.

    A loss on the road in the MWC this early in the season is NOT the end of the world. This team needs our support more than ever before. Let's "pack the Mack" every night, and help them protect the home court.

    As far as benching the big men? That type of punishment/incentive works for home games. But on the road, when we need all the help we can get, all that does is shoots us in the foot. And leaves fans like me scratching my head ... Damn, I am bleeding...
    GO REBELS!!!!!!!!

  9. Stl, Wallace is emerging as a legitimate threat. Nobody has expected as much from him as he has. He's very tough on himself. At practice, when he takes a fall, he shuns all hands to help pick him up. He almost slaps them away. Help? I don't need no stinkin' help! That attitude will carry him far and has turned him into a viable option after struggling as a rookie. Good for him.
    As for rankings. They are so tilted toward the East Coast, that's my main reason for always shunning them. They don't mean a thing. Useless. Unlike pigskin, the play THIS sport off in a playoff. Isn't that refreshing? So people might wonder why I think those rankings are so useless. Well, they are. No value whatsoever. How many voters east of the Mississippi have even seen the Rebels more than once this season, anyhow? I know that answer. Less than three percent.
    Meanwhile, the running-in-molasses Big East has nine teams in the top 25? You need no more evidence about how much of a joke those rankings are.

  10. I've made this point before and just like to stress it again...No game (especially road game) in this conference will be easy for UNLV. So we all better wake up and recognize that we are in the middle of the dog fight that is conference play! AND UNLV has a target on their back (along with BYU)! Man some just don't get that UNLV was not going to go undefeated in the MWC. Surprisingly enough, these league teams are more equally balanced than many thought. Remember we lost road games last season to Air Force, NM, and Utah not to mention BYU. So this TCU loss is part of the battle. Thank goodness it happened early and hopefully is a wake-up call. But the ideal that TCU is below average or mediocre is ignorant. They have a new coach this season, some new players and have some pretty good wins thus far; they could surprise many MWC teams this season. The Rebels need to definitely take care of home the rest of the way and hopefully steal one in Utah, SDSU and BYU.

  11. let us know how practice goes this week... going to be a difficult time for coach... stroke egos or run suicides all practice. this is going to be a huge test for our beloved coaching staff.

  12. Not mediocre SMB? OK, so, do they make the big tourny this year? Of course not, at least not outside of winning the conference tourny. Besides UNLV, tcu has one somewhat decent win against a Texas Tech team that is rebuilding with a new coach. WSU and Colorado are down this year so I guess it's Colgate that is one of their decent wins right? There are no Arizona's or Louisville's or even any UTEP's. Oh yeah, real ignorant, do you think you're the only one who does research?

  13. OK Fast you have the crystal ball and TCU will flat suck!... TCU will not compete in this league this season, won't get any good wins and will be near the bottom if not last place come MWC tourney time and won't even get an invite to the NIT. I'll just say your right for sake of argument because you've watched all their games and have your "research". (Man I sound like a TCU fan all of a sudden)...Really what I am saying/defending is the fact that this league is tighter than WE ALL EXPECTED. Sure UNLV is top 3 definitely but anyone can lose/win the regular season and MWC tourney. So let's just watch things play out shall we.

    Go Rebels!

  14. Actually I have seen them quite a few times on the Mountain and CBSSports (Cox 333) along with several other MWC teams. And because I love UNLV I'm interested to know how other MWC schools are doing so I read up on them. That doesn't make me a snot or you a retard. This is not personal.

    I'm not saying that tcu sucks, I'm saying they're average and don't have any noteable wins outside of UNLV. We should have beat them and UNLV losing to them is a bad loss. TCU may get wins outside of the bottom of the MWC but they're not going to the BIG tourny in all likelihood. I didn't say anything about the NIT.

    Yes the MWC is better than people expected and the road for us will be tough, that was never an arguement from me.