AP Photo/Fort Collins Coloraodoan, Travis A. Heuser
Thursday, Jan. 15, 2009 | 12:22 a.m.
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Ryan Greene and Rob Miech start from the beginning in dissecting UNLV's surprising 71-69 setback at Colorado State, including some interesting body language from the Rebels during pregame warmups. The guys talk about areas still needing improvement, plus look ahead to what is now a very intriguing home date with Wyoming on Saturday night.
FORT COLLINS, Colo. - Oscar Bellfield and Wink Adams missed late shots, and a couple tip attempts by other Rebels were errant, but the foundation of another ugly defeat was established early at Moby Arena.
UNLV coach Lon Kruger could not hide his frustration about a 71-69 loss to Colorado State on Wednesday night.
Most upsetting to Kruger was a first half in which his players directly fed at least four easy CSU baskets with sloppy passes on their own perimeter.
He has coached in the college game for 23 seasons, but there’s always a first time for some things.
“I’ve never seen that before,” Kruger said. “I’ve just never seen that before. We’re throwing them layups on three or four occasions. We hadn’t done that before.
“We have to take better care of the ball. We have to add that to our list of concerns … we have many.”
That helped Colorado State win a regular-season game in the Mountain West Conference for the first time in 20 tries, spanning three seasons.
It was UNLV’s fourth consecutive game decided in the final minute. It won the first two, at Louisville and at home against New Mexico.
However, it has dropped its past two, at TCU on Saturday and to the Rams, who were smacked by BYU by 26 points Saturday in the same arena.
Had UNLV chalked up a victory by a similar margin, maybe it could consider itself on equal terms with the perennially tough Cougars.
Don’t think Rebels coaches and players weren’t thinking along the same line.
Now, the Rebels (13-4, 1-2 in the Mountain West) look like a mediocre conference team, at best.
A renewed emphasis on defense was supposed to have been instilled last week, then the Rebels played flat in Fort Worth, Texas, against the Horned Frogs.
Once again, Kruger ingrained defensive techniques to his players Monday and Tuesday in the Cox Pavilion practice gym. He and his assistants beamed about those sessions.
Before the Rebels knew what hit them, though, they trailed Colorado State 22-10.
“We have to teach it differently, somehow,” Kruger said. “It’s our responsibility to help them get the results.”
A few plays later, Kruger had seen enough. Searching for any combination of players to generate some activity, he put walk-on forward Rob Ketchum in with two other Rebels.
All 12 players who traveled had now spent time on the court. Kruger said he would have had 15 players get in the game, by that point, if he had taken that many on the trip.
“We needed to find someone who wouldn’t throw it in the other direction,” he said.
Or would actually battle for a defensive rebound.
Freshman center Brice Massamba did not play at TCU because UNLV coaches weren’t thrilled with the nine defensive boards he had collected in 15 games.
Six minutes into Wednesday’s game, CSU forward Andy Ogide missed a shot on the right side but squirmed his way inside to snatch the rebound.
In front of Massamba, and with UNLV seniors Joe Darger and René Rougeau trying to close in on him, Ogide emphatically dunked the ball.
That gave the Rams a 17-7 edge and provided a dose of hope to a sparse crowd of 2,757.
If Massamba or starter Darris Santee would execute such a power move in traffic, Kruger and his lieutenants might do backflips on the bench.
Darger, who went six-for-eight from 3-point range, led everyone with 20 points. Santee and Massamba combined for three rebounds, only one on defense.
Ogide led five Rams double-digit scorers with 18 points.
CSU (5-12, 1-2) forged a pair of 12-point leads, but UNLV showed some mettle in cutting its deficit to 24-23.
Adams sank a jumper, Bellfield drove in strong for a layup and then Ketchum scored the first points of his career.
Rams reserve guard and Las Vegas native Harvey Perry missed a 3-pointer that Adams snagged, and on a sprint he fed Ketchum on the left side for one of only two UNLV fastbreak points.
Darger hit a close shot off an inbounds pass and then drilled a 3-pointer from the right corner to get the Rebels to within a point.
Then they looked like a rag-tag rec-league bunch, again, in misfiring on seven consecutive possessions.
Tre’von Willis missed a layin and a 3-pointer, Adams missed an inside fling and Bellfield air-balled a 3-point attempt. Adams, Darger and Rougeau committed turnovers on the last three possessions.
Santee missed a 1-foot banker off Bellfield’s inbounds pass with 1.5 seconds left, keeping UNLV’s deficit at 32-28.
The Rebels scored the first six points of the second half to take their first lead, at 34-32, on Santee’s strong layup on the left side of Ogide.
But CSU stormed back and took the lead for good, at 39-38, on Perry’s jump shot on Rougeau five minutes into the last half.
“Well, I heard the clock was running down,” Perry said. “Five, four, three … I had to let one go. It was a rhythm shot. It felt good to me. I let it go and it went through the net.
Adams cut the deficit to 70-69 by sinking two free throws with 45.8 seconds left and had a chance to give the Rebels the lead, but his fling with about 20 seconds left was off.
Kruger agreed that it looked like Adams might have stumbled a bit as he drove through the right side.
“He didn’t get off a strong finish,” Kruger said.
What concerns Kruger most is his team’s general malaise. Santee chased one ball out of bounds Wednesday and stopped at the line, not about to sail into the stands for it.
“Not very much,” said Kruger, when asked how frequently he sees players going all out to make such saves. “Those types of things have to happen for us.”
Kruger repeatedly said CSU “outfought” his players. For a coach who always preaches about rebounding, diving for loose balls and hustle, that’s the most embarrassing aspect of his team’s performances.
There’s a whole lot of teams in the league, Kruger said, playing better than UNLV.
“We have to realize we have to out-work people,” he said. “In several games, we felt like we’d get results without out-fighting the opponent. We’re now realizing, hopefully, that we can’t do that.”