Friday, March 13, 2009 | 7:33 p.m.
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Ryan Greene and Rob Miech discuss UNLV's 71-57 loss to San Diego State in the opening round of the Mountain West Tournament, which more than likely punched the Rebels' dance ticket ... for the NIT. The guys discuss the lingering problems which could not be cured heading into the MWC tourney, and just how long fans can expect to see the Rebels hang around in whichever tournament they go to.
UNLV fifth-year basketball coach Lon Kruger conducted business as usual, sort of, Friday inside his office at the Thomas & Mack Center.
Down a flight of stairs and around a hallway bend, though, basketball was being played and his team wasn’t a part of the proceedings.
A 71-57 defeat to San Diego State in a quarterfinal of the Mountain West Conference tournament Thursday afternoon ousted the Rebels from the event being staged on their own court.
Twenty-four hours later, Kruger talked about heightened expectations that have left a few fans, among others, disappointed about a 21-win season that should extend into the National Invitation Tournament.
“That’s what fans are about,” Kruger said. “They should be disappointed. Our players should be disappointed. Our coaches should be disappointed … especially with the last couple years.
“Those clubs changed expectations. That is healthy. It’s something you want in the program. Once you do that, you need to respond. We didn’t respond this year like we need to.”
Two years ago, Kruger’s son, Kevin, led UNLV to the Sweet 16 with NCAA tournament victories over Georgia Tech and Wisconsin in Chicago.
A year ago, Curtis Terry guided the Rebels to a victory over Kent State, and they lost to eventual national-champion Kansas in the second round.
This year, it appears UNLV (21-10) could be headed back to its first NIT since Kruger’s first season, when the Rebels lost, 77-68, at South Carolina.
“It would be an opportunity to practice a few days and an opportunity to play,” Kruger said. “We’d be disappointed if we’re not in the NCAAs … which we don’t expect to be. Still, we’ll line up and play.
“We’ll see what comes Sunday. Hopefully, we keep playing. We’ll take advantage of that in terms of practice opportunities and getting a little better.”
Thursday, the critical juncture arrived midway through the second half, when the Aztecs took a 59-45 lead.
SDSU failed to score on five consecutive possessions. However, the Rebels only tallied points – on a three-point play by sophomore guard Tre’Von Willis – on one of their ensuing six possessions.
Lorrenzo Wade stopped that slide for SDSU with a jumper, after Matt Thomas had rebounded Wade’s off-target 3-point shot, and the Aztecs regained control.
“A critical stage,” Kruger said. “San Diego State did what it wanted on both ends of the floor. We didn’t take much away from their offensive end and we struggled to get points.
“We didn’t do what we had to do to keep them from playing great.”
That game continued a disturbing trend in which UNLV has shot poorly all season. It only hit 39.1 percent of its shots against the Aztecs.
On the season, the Rebels have shot 42.4 percent from the field. That’s 229th in the country.
If not on his DVD player, Kruger has replayed elements and scenes of Thursday’s game in his mind since it ended.
“You replay every game several times,” he said. “You think of all the things you’d like to have seen done differently. That’s the nature of what we do. You don’t ever let one go that easily.
“You learn from them and, hopefully, get better from them.”
UNLV has scheduled an awards banquet for Sunday at 1 p.m. at the Cox Pavilion, and those plans haven’t changed.
That’s becoming an annual event, highlighted by the revelation of where and whom the Rebels would play in the NCAAs after winning the Mountain West tournament title the past two seasons.
“We’ll talk about the season, hand out awards,” Kruger said, “and, hopefully, see where we will play next.”
This time, UNLV might not know its foe until Sunday night, when the NIT makes its selections. A Wednesday concert at the Mack could send UNLV on the road for the first round of the NIT.
Might that be a springboard, with standout transfers like 6-foot-6 point guard Derrick Jasper and 6-8 forward Chace Stanback eligible next season, to reaching lofty expectations?
A stark reality check for younger Rebels about doing what’s necessary to play in the major tournament?
Kruger took Florida to the Final Four of the NCAAs in 1994, a year after the Gators lost a first-round game in the NIT. But he said every situation is different.
“Certainly, from this year, we’ll learn a lot, whether it’s from an NIT experience or the experiences we’ve had to this point,” he said. “Younger players on this team must recognize that we have to do things differently.
“We have to have more conviction, more urgency. Again, we didn’t do the things we needed to do this year. There are consequences to that. Those are tough lessons. But, hopefully, lessons to be learned.”