REBELS BASKETBALL:

No. 20 UNLV gets ‘reality check’ in 75-72 victory over Boise State

Rebels start hot, finish sloppy in tune-up for Saturday’s showdown with No. 24 Louisville

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV head coach Lon Kruger talks to his players during a break in action against Boise State during their game at the Orleans Arena Wednesday, December 8, 2010. UNLV held off a late surge to win 75-72 and improve to 9-0.

UNLV vs. Boise State

UNLV vs. Boise State

UNLV vs. Boise State

UNLV guard Chace Stanback pats teammate Quintrell Thomas on the head during their game against Boise State at the Orleans Arena Wednesday, December 8, 2010. UNLV held off a late surge to win 75-72 and improve to 9-0. Launch slideshow »

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Just as it did in its last game played in Las Vegas on Nov. 20, the UNLV men's basketball notched a 3-point win on Wednesday night.

But this one had much more of a bitter aftertaste than the Rebels' 68-65 victory over Wisconsin that led into their five-game road swing.

No. 20 UNLV escaped its annual outing in the Orleans Arena with a 75-72 triumph over Boise State that may end up turning out to be a wake-up call before the team travels to take on No. 24 Louisville on Saturday.

"It was disappointing," junior forward Chace Stanback said. "That's why we have to come out for 40 minutes instead of 20. I felt like we played a decent 20, then a terrible second half."

Stanback was a driving force behind the good 20, as his hot start helped UNLV (9-0) race out to 28-7 lead by the game's second media timeout.

In that opening stretch, the Rebels were a model of offensive efficiency. Stanback was 5-of-8 from the floor and 3-of-4 from 3-point range, tallying 14 points before taking a breather. To that point, they also had eight assists compared to just three turnovers. It appeared that the Rebels were primed to shake free of their trend in recent years of playing so-so basketball at the Orleans.

Meanwhile, their defensive pressure in that same time frame forced 10 Boise State turnovers, as the Broncos (6-2) were clearly flustered in a cold arena and in front of a noisy sell-out crowd.

"That's a really good basketball team. I've watched almost all of their games and I couldn't be more impressed," said first-year Broncos coach Leon Rice. "That's a hard situation, though, and you're fighting human nature when you get up by 20 (points) and it's easy to let your guard down a little bit. It's hard to be on that bench."

Rice credited his team's continued fight, despite the massive early deficit and the mountain of momentum it was up against.

After missing its first nine shot attempts and looking visibly rattled, the Broncos slowly worked their way back into the game upon settling down. As UNLV grew a bit complacent and sloppy late in the first half, Boise State never went away.

To open the second half, the Broncos began applying the same backcourt and full-court pressure that the Rebels have made a living off of against opponents all season. It forced UNLV to play sped-up and at times out of control in a situation where it might have been better served by slowing things down and working the clock with a big lead.

"They started to put the pressure on and we kind of weren't prepared for that, played a little lackadaisical, made a lot of mental errors that we have to pick up on," Stanback added. "Nobody likes to be rushed like that, nobody likes to be pressed. We just have to execute better."

After building that 28-7 advantage, the Rebels were forced into 19 turnovers, and the Broncos, who feature a guard-heavy attack similar to UNLV's, feasted.

They hovered right around the 15-point spread put on the game until making their strongest advance in the final 3:32.

At that point, UNLV led 69-54, but in the next two minutes, as the Rebels turned the ball over five times, Boise State constructed a 17-4 run, getting to within two points at 73-71 with 23 seconds to play.

It woke up what had been a subdued crowd for a large chunk of the game, and after Tre'Von Willis hit two free throws to ice the win moments later, the late letdown was all the buzz as the 8,320 in attendance filed out.

It was eerily similar to Saturday's result in Reno, when the Rebels got off to more than a 20-point first half lead, then let the Wolf Pack turn it into a competitive track meet before UNLV left with a 12-point win.

"Disappointed to be so sloppy, so sloppy with the ball," UNLV coach Lon Kruger said. "Careless turnovers really put the game in doubt at the end, and you really can't afford to do that.

"Getting off to a good start's good, but then you can't back off."

Still, it was a win and kept the Rebels unbeaten on the young season, continuing to build on the program's best start since the 1990-91 campaign.

After his hot start, Stanback was offensively quiet the rest of the way but still finished with a team-high 16 points.

Willis's late free throws capped off a 14-point performance that was accented by five rebounds, four assists and three steals. He also had four turnovers. Also scoring 14 was Derrick Jasper, who was 7-of-9 from the field and had several key second half buckets. Anthony Marshall tallied 11, but also committed five turnovers in his 15 minutes.

Boise State's top two offensive threats — seniors La'Shard Anderson and Robert Arnold — each scored 18.

After allowing 45 points to the Broncos in the second half, UNLV is sure to have an interesting practice on Thursday afternoon.

Kruger and his staff might not have to harp on the recent pattern of sloppy second halves, though, as several players afterward seemed to have a pretty firm grasp on what has to change before taking on Louisville.

"It was a reality check going into playing a good ball club like Louisville," Marshall said. "You don't want to go in on a down game like this, but we got the win, so that's the positive thing."

Notes

• On Wednesday afternoon, the field for the 2011 Las Vegas Invitational, to be played at the Orleans on the Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving, was finalized. It will include UNLV, North Carolina, South Carolina and Southern Cal.

• Earlier in the night, Louisville improved to 7-0 with a dominating-yet-ugly 61-35 victory at home over San Francisco. The Cardinals have yet to play a game away from the KFC Yum! Center, which is their brand new home.

• Other stats of note: UNLV's 22 turnovers were its most in a single game this season. The previous high was 16 against Murray State on Nov. 26. … UNLV was 26-of-53 from the floor and 7-of-15 from deep … After an offensive explosion on Saturday in Reno, Rebels point guard Oscar Bellfield was just 1-of-8 from the floor against the Broncos, finishing with five points in 35 minutes … UNLV's 14 steals were also a season-high, having previously registered eight on two occasions.

• Rebels junior walk-on forward Todd Hanni was not with the team at the Orleans on Wednesday, as he's battling the flu.

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  1. Uuuuuggggllllyy second half. Still, let's not panic. A look back at the championship season shows a Rebel team with a couple of losses at this juncture in their season. The Rebels simply need to stay focused for 40 minutes. It is a process and VERY difficult to do. Hanging on after you blow a lead is a great character builder - among other things. Let's get 'em Rebels! L'Ville next up and next to go down!

  2. Turnovers have been a looming problem so far. If Boise State can pressure and turn us over this many times what is Louisville going to do? Very difficult task ahead. Got to get this problem worked out quickly boys. Runnin' Rebels!

  3. A little national praise from the polls and the media has our guys believing if they just show up they won't lose. Not the case. This team can play VERY efficient and exciting basketball when they're focused. But they can play awful too, as we saw. The end stretch of last night's game was the worst Rebel basketball I've seen in a long time. Back to the fundamentals. Hope we get a little fire in us, and take much much better care of the basketball when we go to the YUM Center in front of 20,000 screaming Louisville fans. Not going to be easy.

  4. I didn't feel like the game was really ever in doubt, regardless of the score. The Rebels played the second half as if they were tired from a long road trip, as if they were playing in a lifeless arena, and as if they were really uninterested in playing an inferior opponent. That said, I also feel like they were always in control of the game. Even as the lead shrunk it still appeared that unlv could score at will and shut Boise state down if they needed to, something that really wasn't necessary until the last minute of the game. Give credit to the kid from Boise that hit that late 3 to get the fans on their feet, but I didn't notice any sense of panic on the Rebel side of the ball. They made their free throws, upped the defensive pressure, and took care of business to finish out the game. A win is a win, and if you think you'll see the same lack of intensity on the road, against a good louisville team, then you really haven't watched the Rebels enough this year.

  5. Now that we got the "oops" out of the way and the orleans arena in the rear view mirror, lets move along rebels. I despise the Orleans arena, and Boise had confidence last night from winning 6 games. They knew what it took, and we let down our guard a bit. Not too much though. We should be rested for Louisville, they also played last night.

  6. While I won't say that the play in the second half doesn't concern me, I also won't doom the team to be a big let down after looking so good to start the season. As 123 said, I think the big thing is that with the Reno game and now this game, we jumped out to such a big lead and were so dominant that it was almost as if the players were looking for something to hold their interest. Thats when we started seeing circus passes and trying to do some fancy dribbling, which lead to turnovers.
    All of that being said, I am sort of glad that this happened. We could have and should have run Boise out of the gym, but the Rebels got a bit overconfident after the hot start and that let down almost bit them in the end. It was the perfect storm of us slacking off and Boise shooting the ball really well in the second half that led to a 3-point thriller.
    This may be the wake up call the boys needed. Even in Reno, we played a good, solid 10 minutes and walked out with a double digit win, so what was the real lesson? This one almost turned into a really ugly loss that could have cost us a seed or two come tournament time. I'm expecting a big effort on Saturday in Louisville and I honestly think we'll go into the YUM Center (ridiculous name by the way) and beat Pitino pretty handily.

  7. Good win.. very strange game, but I'll take it. Also good to see LJ at the game, the more involvement he has with the Rebels the better. Need to get Tark to a game.

  8. Perfect time for a "wake up call!" It will only help us prepare for Louiseville AND the "wake up call" didn't cost us a win. Everyone left that game concerned and relieved.

  9. Good post DocRebel. For the most part Louisville should be an easy match-up. They have little inside presence and their schedule has been pretty weak so far. The one thing that concerns me however is the turnovers, in particular turnovers due to the press. No matter what one thinks of Pitino one thing he knows very well is pressure defense. Hopefully the coaches and players are prepared for this. If they are, it should be a rather comfortable win.

  10. Win handily? Rather comfortable win? I hope that you guys are right but if UNLV beats Louisville by double figures I would be shocked. They can definitely match our athleticism and they will pressure much better than Boise State. We also will most likely see some zone. This is a big test and if the Rebels win it won't be by much. After winning the last two contests against Louisville, being ranked higher, and coming in undefeated, the Cards will be jacked up on their own home floor. You all have alot more confidence then I do. Here's hoping you are right. Any chance someone can introduce Slick Rick to a blond bombshell before the game? Maybe at a nice Italian place? Runnin' Rebels!

  11. I agree, with it being so easy initially with BSU, you almost feel sorry for BSU and let up a bit. I don't fault UNLV, its a natural reaction. I think it will be a whole different story with UL. They will play with intensity because UL is a threat. I don't think BSU was ever a threat to UNLV, but got hot towards the end.