Friday, Jan. 15, 2010 | 2:15 a.m.
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Ryan Greene and Ray Brewer discuss what again was a tale of two halves for UNLV, as the Rebels used a second half surge keyed by defense and the offensive precision of Tre'Von Willis and Chace Stanback to down San Diego State, 76-66. Plus, a look at a recurring issue for the Rebels and why the team is set up for a nice run coming up.
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UNLV coach Lon Kruger doubled as both a hoops instructor and an offensive-line coach Thursday afternoon.
During a 3-on-3 rebounding drill, Kruger had three of his rotation players match up with their backs facing the basket against three redshirts.
As assistants Greg Grensing and Lew Hill threw shots up from the wing, the goal was to extend with the arms to create separation against the redshirts — who were simulating opposing players on the offensive end — and crash the glass.
The intense drill only added fuel to the competitive fire the Rebels displayed throughout the 90-minute practice, which came a day after San Diego State's inside presence and activity on the offensive glass kept the Aztecs around until the closing moments of a 76-66 UNLV win at the Thomas & Mack Center.
"That combined with an edit tape that shows it pretty clearly," Kruger said of his team getting the message again. "They know. They know we got whipped on the boards. They know to accomplish what we want to in terms of progress, we have to improve that area.
"We do it every day, but it seemed like today, the guys took ownership of the need to improve it. I think they were aware of that."
Thursday's practice had some guys chatting louder, sweating more and breathing harder than normal.
And until UNLV gets a chance to reverse its rebounding fortunes Saturday in a 7 p.m. contest against Utah, practicing hard is about all the Rebels can do.
Granted, the Rebels are only three games into the Mountain West Conference schedule, but so far in league play UNLV ranks last in the conference in rebounds allowed per game (43) and average rebounding margin (-9). The Rebels, in those three games, have allowed 15.3 offensive boards a game.
Meanwhile, the Utes (8-8 overall, 1-1 MWC) are seeing similar struggles in controlling the battle on the boards after the graduation of center Luke Nevill.
So far in league competition, Utah ranks eighth in both rebounds per game (31) and rebounds allowed per game (39).
Overall this season, Utah's average rebounding margin of -2.1 ranks last in the league, right behind UNLV's -1.5.
Offensive explosions in Wednesday's second half against SDSU from Tre'Von Willis (23 points) and Chace Stanback (18) helped cover up the rebounding troubles, which included the Aztecs pulling down 15 offensive boards and scoring 16 second-chance points.
In a 74-62 victory Saturday at New Mexico, doing the cover-up job, in large part, was Kendall Wallace's 6-of-7 showing from 3-point range in the second half.
However, the Rebels know that they can't keep winning consistently if they continue to rely on compensating elsewhere for their rebounding deficiencies.
"That's an area that keeps teams battling with us, because they get a lot of offensive rebounds, create more possessions and shots because of that," junior forward Matt Shaw said. "That's what we have to eliminate. A lot of teams think we're not a good rebounding team and it kind of brings that to their attention, so that's the area we have to work on."
There's no better time than the present to keep a reputation from forming.
"We're definitely trying to change that so that doesn't happen," Shaw added. "A team can think that way.
"If we can do what we're supposed to do, hopefully we can eliminate all of those thoughts."
That's where the use of contact-heavy, competition-filled drills in practice comes into play.
Kruger said he believes that while there are some players who instinctually constantly go to the glass with ferocity, developing that mindset is not impossible.
"Typically, competitive drills enhance the learning," said Kruger, who was also quite vocal during the exercises on Thursday. "If you just kind of walk through it, it doesn't sink in quite as well, I don't think."