unlv basketball:

Kruger ‘disappointed’ in season short of expectations

Rebels expect first NIT bid since coach’s debut season

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Sam Morris

UNLV coach Lon Kruger yells instructions during their game against San Diego State at the Mountain West Conference basketball championships Thursday.

One and Done

For the 3rd time this season UNLV lost to San Diego State. This game, the quarterfinal of the Mountain West Conference Tournament saw the Rebels lose 71 to 57.

Did All He Could

In his third game of the year against San Diego State, senior Wink Adams scored a season-high 26 points, but it wasn't enough as UNLV fell to the Aztecs in the quarterfinal of the Mountain West Conference Tournament 71-57.

UNLV vs. San Diego State

UNLV guard Wink Adams reacts to picking up a foul in their game against San Diego State at the Mountain West Conference basketball championships Thursday.  San Diego State won the game 71-57. Launch slideshow »
The Rebel Room

SDSU POSTGAME: Nothing unexpected ...

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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.”

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  1. Even though this season did not meet expectations of many fans, this program is going in the right direction. Next years squad should be very competitive for starting spots with the team losing 5 seniors and hopefully the way this season and tournament ended will fuel the desire to play each game like its the most important one. I hope that all the young guys like Willis, Bellfield, Mitchell, Massamba, and all the redshirts we have this year take this as a valuable lesson and hold each other accountable. Team chemistry needs to be much better and hopefully one of them will step into the leader roll we so desperately need.

    Thanks Rob for all the great stories and keep up the good work until we see the guys start new next year.

  2. Nah, Lenny, I wouldn't think too deeply on any personality clashes or chemistry issues. I'm not saying they don't exist, as best I can tell or be informed, but they generally exist on many teams. Thing is, and you know this, Tre can't transfer, unless he wants to go to a D-II school to play right away. He's not about to burn another year transferring. Chemistry is invaluable, that's why there's only one winner at the end of the year. It's tough to build, as everyone saw this season. Tre does play hard. He said as much at Valley this week, and then he proved it with his first career double-double in the team's most important game of the season.
    I think he'll be better with Derrick Jasper running the show. They know each other, and Tre is a more-natural 'two,' anyway.
    And I like him a lot, too, Lenny. There's a lot to like. His edginess is just a part of the package.
    running and lenny, thanks for the kudos. We'll keep it going year-round.
    And Lenny, that drink or two might be kinda nice down the road. Been a looooooooong season.
    :-)

  3. Well, the basketball hasn't been outstanding, but the coverage has. Thanks again for everything you and the Sun gave us this season.

    Willis had every right to yell at anyone on the team (besides Wink). Willis actually rebounded the ball. No one else on the team had more than one in the first half.

    Willis certainly played more like a senior than Mo. Rene took himself out of the game with careless, stupid fouls AGAIN. Joe was not really a factor and clearly not any type of floor leader. Wink did his thing, but it seemed like the whole team had to yield to him and watch.

    I am VERY thankful we have Willis. How many games did he keep us in when the seniors decided not to show up?

    One request, Rob. And I want to preface by saying that I consider myself very fortunate to have my UNLV degree, to have a good job in this economy, and to be able to afford season tickets.

    I (inexpensively) went to a lot of games in college. When I graduated and got a job, I gladly donated to the RAF and got season tickets. I take grate pride in my little piece of real estate in the T&M and I don't agree with the idiots that are saying they'll not renew because of one disappointing season. It will break my heart if I have to give up the seats I've had for several years. Witnessed so many great moments from those seats.

    Having said all that, no bonus this year. For my wife either. No raise for her. And we're better off than most.

    Any chance you can do a story about the price of season tickets? Why does UNLV have the most expensive season tickets in the MWC? Are they even considering rasing prices again in this environment and after this season? Are loyal RAF donors going to be shown any consideration for what all would agree were some painful stretches this year that lasted all the way to the end?

    In the end, I'm a die hard. I'll probably charge them if I have to even if they do raise the prices. I just love my Rebels too much not to. BUT scoring 46,46,57 to finish the season is NOT going to get the buts in the seats.

    Are the loyal ones going to get stuck with making up the difference?

    Thanks again for the great coverage this year.

  4. Lenny, I ask you to think here, and not just be a 'homer' fan.

    Rudd might not even be eligible, even IF he chooses UNLV. By the way, speaking of issues, Rudd was thrown out of Findley a week or so ago. This staff will probably not even fill that last ride this year. Recruiting has been poor, and the rate of players transfering in and out of the program is a problem. Our dependence on cast-off's from other D1 teams should certainly be a concern.

    Why would you expect Santee to do anything? Kruger gave up on him and broke his spirit, he might even transfer out (I wouldn't be shocked if Mitchell left too). Matt Shaw is not a Center, he has ZERO inside game, I love how he opens the floor up with his 3 pointers, but that's all he brings to the table besides a great attitude.

    Funny thing is, you didn't even mention Carlos Lopez, who is the guy Kruger is counting on NEXT year to play Center for us. What do you know about him? I can tell you he isn't a true center and that he still needs to add about 50 pounds of muscle.

    You predict Final Fours, like it's easy even with a good team to get that far, but you don't have the slightest clue in reality what the roster will even look like next year. Obviously you know more about being a fan than being a judge of a basketball teams outlook. I'm cool with that, because it takes all types to make the world go round, but I choose to disagree with your Final Four assessment, and subsequent corination of next years team.

  5. Hamga was a big reason for the pre-season hype for this team. He was one of the 2 ingredients we needed to have a successful run in the tournament. That bomb left a big crater.

    We struggled more in conference games this year because you play the same team twice each year. They know how to stop our 4 guard offense. They know Darger likes to pick and pop. They know Rutledge and Wallace are 1 dimensional players.
    What really hurt was Wink having an off year. When he can't hit a three, there goes the only player who can drive and dish for players like Darger, Rut, or Wallace.

    The good news is next year we should be more balanced. If teams run out on Stanback to stop his 3, he'll be able to take it to the hole and score unlike Darger. Jasper is a talented multi-dimensional player compared to Rutledge, Wallace, and Mitchell. When I watched the scarlet and grey game at the start of the season, I was shocked to see the "Black shirt squad" minues Jasper was hanging with or beating the starters.

    The only question is will next years team have the same heart and drive that propelled a considerably less talented team the past two years to heights they shouldn't have reached.

  6. I'll pass on Rudd, thank you. And it's not even so much that I think he will be a "cancer." He may be, or he may not be. Players with "issues" can certainly rebound and thrive in a system, but it takes a certain (not necessarily better) kind of coach to take those chances and make it work. Tark was that kind of coach. Kruger is not. I'm not saying one philosophy is better than another. I'm simply saying that kids with baggage are incompatible with Kruger's system, as we have witnessed several times already.

  7. True, that's definitely a topic we'll address. Count on it. In this environment, I'd think the folks at the Mack will want to hang onto every season-ticket holder they can. I think there are big things to come in the next few seasons. I'll tell nobody what to do with their money, but I think you'll have fun. Thanks for the compliments, too. Mucho appreciated. And we'll keep this up year-round. Might be a little break to hibernate a little on some island somewhere, but we'll keep you informed and entertained.
    patti, you are spot on about Stanback. He is the multi-dimensional player that has been missing at UNLV. He can hit the 3, but he'll pump-fake you into the third row and take it in hard and actually finish with a flourish. He will be dynamic.
    RebSince74, Lopez will be outstanding. Yes, he will gain some weight and strength, but he has some sensational low-post spins that Massamba and Santee do not possess. Also, Lopez unflinchingly goes hard to the rim. He does not think twice about finishing with jams. He will be a special player.
    Lenny, yep, those were some long notes! :-) But very well put together and accurate. In fact, valid points all in the above messages. This feedback and dialogue is pretty cool and let's definitely continue in the offseason.
    But, wait, there is more ball to be played. It should be interesting to see what happens Sunday and in the next week.
    Any predictions, if UNLV does go to the NIT, who and where they'll play, and what will happen?
    And thanks to all for the kind words. We're going to do this year-round, so don't go away.

  8. It's just too bad the 09 seniors' legacy will be kind of tarnished. They'll be remembered for being important to the rebuilding process, but also for not finishing. They're good kids; would've liked to see them etched deeper into Rebel lore.

  9. Top Reasons Why the Big 4 Can't Complain About Playing in Vegas Anymore,.....if SDSU can beat Utah today:

    SDSU:
    A. Beat the Rebels twice at the Mack this year.

    When a team can do that it obviously diminishes the magic that was once perceived for UNLV'a home court advantage.

    New Mexico:
    A. In the two years he's been at New Mexico Steve Alford has whined constantly about the tourny being in Vegas.
    B. Has yet to get out of the first round and he hasn't even played the Rebels in the MWC tourny yet.

    Here's a shot out to the New Mexico fans sitting directly behind me who incessantly complained about home court advantage throughout the entire time UNLV was getting throttled by SDSU. Little did they know that they were going home the same day I was.

    A. The only difference: It took me 25 minutes to get home and it took them two state borders.
    B. Their only upside: Frequent comments on how the officials were making up for UNLV's home court advantage by bailing out SDSU at critical moments. Not why we lost BTW.

    BYU:
    A. UNLV beat them in Provo, that should be enough.
    B. They couldn't win the tourny...again, and this time they didn't even play the Rebels.

    So much for your fallback excuse of "Well, we lose only because it's the Rebels on their homecourt while playing in the UNLV Invitational". Not even Sarah could punch, push, scratch, claw or bite BYU's way past the second round.

    Utah:
    A. Same thing as BYU. If the Utes lose to SDSU, they lost again in Vegas and didn't even play the Rebels.

    SIDENOTES

    1. If SDSU wins today maybe we should move the tournament up to SLC, just so that the Utah schools can even have a chance to win something given their recent track record. However, it won't buy BYU a win in the Big Dance that has eluded them for a couple of decades.

    2. Steve and your belligerent fans...I think you can shut up now. Win a game, then we'll talk.

  10. Grayback, touche. That's the short and the sweet of it, and I agree with you.
    Lenny, it certainly is difficult to get up for the NIT. However, this group can look at it as one last test of its mettle. That counts for something, or should. This truly will be the seniors' last stand, to end on some sort of note, and will no doubt show Kruger who he can count on, youngster-wise, for the next couple of seasons.
    Just to reiterate, folks, we are keeping our feet on the pedal, in fifth gear. We are all over recruiting and every aspect of the program, with some great surprises in store for the next few weeks if not months.
    We're just hitting our stride.
    thanks

  11. Lenny, I did a piece on this when Louisville played here last season. Should be easy to find in our search engine. The way I heard it, Cavagnaro, the UNLV AD at the time, dropped her at the McCarran curb not knowing, of course, that her flight would be delayed. It was, for 12 hours or so. No UNLV official was there to keep her company, etc. I talked to Cavagnaro about this, directly, 16 months ago or so, and the line just went dead. He did not want to confirm or talk about anything. I don't think it would have gone down, anyway.
    Besides all that, though, I think UNLV made a sounds and wise decision.
    When UNLV won at Louisville, who was there to shake his opposition's hand and who petulantly bolted because he was ticked at a ref's non-call?
    Lon Kruger did not bolt.
    UNLV will be fine.

  12. To All: Wake up tomorrow after Rebeless brackets are out and be thankful. Be thankful for the departing seniors. Be thankful that they made it possible for us to be disappointed again. I moved here 4 years ago, came to a game with a friend and saw Lon Kruger walk out of tunnel and to the Rebels bench. I purchased season tickets the next day.

    I moved from NY, the mecca, and I can tell you that UNLV was a national irrelavant. Yet with Kruger comes respect - Nationally, Regionally, in the Confernce, in Las Vegas, and most importantly in the locker room. Joe, Wink and Rene were freshman when I moved to town. And over the course of 4 years here, they have contributed alot to the reemergance of this program. Lets not forget that.

    The very vast majority of the time a team visits the Thomas & Mack, UNLV will have a sideline advantage with Kruger, that did not change this year. What did change was other teams were better.

    All of the above said, there is a huge difference between having seniors, and having senior leadership. What we had during the past two seasons were senior leaders like Kevin Kruger and Curtis Terry; vocal players that were comfortable in that role. What we had this year were seniors (btw the fact that both of the afformentioned were point guards should tell you it is not coincidence that the teams offense struggled for identity this season).

    Wink was much more comfortable when he was only asked to let his play talk. And Rene, well he actually tried too hard. He put up nice numbers, yet his chirping on the court was old to me by the time his team had lost to CIN in November. I can just imagine when Tre and others began to tune him out. I will never ever question the young man's desire to play hard, yet as a leader there are multiple ways to hold others accountable, and it is not always yelling or embarrassing them for a mistake. Sometime you have to help a teammate up when they are down.

    Finally, to the guy that posted earlier that Rudd could not play with Kruger because Coach is not the kind of coach that can take a chance like Tark could. No. 1, who are you to make a choice for Rudd or any kid like him. If you come to play for this coach you will come and you will learn what it means to be held accountable on the court, in the classroom, and in the community. As a supporter of the school I would not have it any other way. The all athletes dorm, Cristal in the hot tubs -they are things of the past. The ONLY similarity between Kruger and Tark Eras will be that they will both have been to multiple Final Fours... the biggest difference is that when we eventually have to sadly say good bye to Lon Kruger, he will not send the program spiraling into the toliet on the way out.

  13. I see this as a transitional season. The team was integrating young guys with serious talent (those on the court and those in practices waiting for next year), and it didn't seem like the seniors quite knew what to do about it. There was a lot of yelling by guys like Rene at guys like Oscar that showed frustration. This generational change has me of the mind that next year is the year the team makes the leap into the mid-major elite. Just call this year evidence of why they call growing pains exactly that.

    As for this year, I find it disappointing that the Rebels aren't considered tournament worthy. They beat a #1 seed on their court without their best player. Swept BYU. Beat Utah. Whipped Arizona. I know those SDSU loses loom large (along with a few other road turkeys), but in looking at the profiles of other tourney worth teams, they all have more than enough holes in their profiles, as well.

    Seven Big Ten teams considered locks? After next Sunday, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see all seven of them vanished from the brackets.

  14. UNLV, in my opinion, is not a mid major. We don't need the MWC. They need us. Our name and tradition carry itself. Thanks to recent success, it has illuminated the past.

  15. Sorry Lenny. I am from Long Island. 1991 is a loooong time ago. I am sorry man, you dont go a decade not getting into the dance, and remain the national power that you so dilusionally think. And why do you have to be a punk and say I dont know what I am talking about? I like you am a diehard. Have only missed 1 game in the four years I have been here. Get ahold of yourself and enjoy the fact that Coach Kruger has really had to rebuild the program from the ground up. Tark, Rollie, and the Universitiy's BS left the UNLV basketball program as an undesireable place to play or coach.

    AND, I will agree with you that the MW TV deal is hurting the team, not necessarily the conference. The conference has quality teams. You have to agree with that if you believe anything you write about the Rebels. Fact is fact.. we finished 5th in this conference.

    Its not the quality of the conference, its the leadership of the conference.

    As for Memphis, the fact they have won 60+ straight games in their conference does not help them, it hurt them today when they got a very difficult #2 seed when they probably deserve a #1.

    Keep the faith Lenny.. we should be buddies rooting for the Rebs, not talking sh*t