Sunday, Jan. 11, 2009 | midnight
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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?
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.”