Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Thursday, Jan. 20, 2011 | 2:15 a.m.
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Las Vegas Sun reporters Ryan Greene and Ray Brewer discuss the UNLV basketball team's upset loss Wednesday to Colorado State, 78-63. The Rebels are 3-5 overall since winning their initial 11 games to open the season. Can things get turned back around?
The Rebels were out-hustled, out-muscled and simply out-played in a 78-63 defeat at the hands of the upstart Rams. What was most disturbing, though, was that CSU did so right from the opening tip and continued to for almost a full 40 minutes.
The result propelled the Rams to sole possession of third place in the Mountain West Conference standings at 3-1, while the Rebels are now an unexpected 2-3.
"We've done a pretty good job on the year of disrupting and just didn't do anything tonight to disrupt them," UNLV coach Lon Kruger said "I thought they won all the battles and deserved to win the ballgame."
The Rams rode the back of senior forward Andy Ogide early in building a quick 8-2 lead out of the gates and held a 30-25 edge at halftime.
The story of the second half, though, was that UNLV was only allowed to get so close before CSU slapped the Rebels away.
UNLV tied it at 31-31 just over two minutes into the second half only to watch the Rams rip off an 11-2 run. Then, after pulling almost even a few minutes later at 53-50, CSU unleashed a 13-2 spurt.
The Rams' growing confidence as the game wore on was visible.
It's a team that a year ago went 0-8 against the Mountain West's "Big Four" — UNLV, New Mexico, San Diego Stateand BYU — by an average margin of more than 18 points. To prove that they truly belonged in the league's top tier, the Rams knew they had to win one of those games rather than just be scrappy.
It was clear early on that they felt they were on the cusp, and by early in the second half, they had the look of a team that knew it was going to get a signature league win under fourth-year coach Tim Miles.
They scored 11 second-chance points after halftime, as Ogide and fellow senior Travis Franklin displayed nonstop motors in attacking the offensive glass.
On the final stat sheet, Colorado State collected 11 offensive boards compared to only 15 defensive caroms for UNLV.
No one blossomed as much as Franklin, who a year ago was spotted crying on the Rams' bench after fouling out of an 80-72 loss to the Rebels in Fort Collins. In that game, which was close from wire to wire, his 3-of-14 showing at the free throw line crippled his team in crunch time.
On Wednesday, Franklin scored 18 of his game-high 24 points after the half, including a few strong and-one finishes that visibly deflated UNLV.
"We belong," Franklin said. "We've just got to keep winning and showing the conference that we belong."
Added Miles: "After last year, it was 'OK, we need to be in the top four (in the MWC.) Let's just set a bottom line of we're not going to settle for less.' Well, you can talk yourself blue in the face, and there's just a time where you have to put up or shut up. Tonight, I was really impressed with their poise."
While things are looking up all around for the surging CSU program, which has improved steadily during Miles' tenure, many of the UNLV faithful right now have a hand hovering over the panic button.
The crowd of 11,266 at the Mack showed its displeasure by filing out early, with many departing when there were still five minutes left in the game.
"It's just the little things that have been hurting us all season," sophomore guard Anthony Marshall said. "Loose balls, rebounding, free throw shooting here and there, hitting shots … Just the little things."
What's most alarming has been the inability for UNLV to consistently correct those little things. From the onset, the Rebels had the look of a group that lacked urgency, almost as if they expected the Rams to leave the door open for a comeback at some point rather than forcing their way through.
UNLV was out-rebounded 34-29 and shot just 2-of-15 from beyond the arc.
There were a couple of decent performances sprinkled into the mess.
Marshall scored 14 points and again was the center of UNLV's offense, while Chace Stanback shot well for the second straight game, scoring a team-high 16 points to go with seven rebounds.
Quintrell Thomas was let loose a bit off of the bench for the first time in a while and responded with seven points and six rebounds in 16 minutes, and even freshman Karam Mashour looked aggressive while playing his first meaningful minutes as a Rebel.
But, again, UNLV's trio of big men couldn't all produce on the same night. With Thomas playing well, Carlos Lopez and Brice Massamba combined for five points and no rebounds in 20 minutes. Point guard Oscar Bellfield, who again had his right wrist wrapped after playing without the tape for two games, continued to struggle offensively, going 3-of-11 from the floor and 0-for-6 from deep in 36 minutes.
Defensively, UNLV let Colorado State get whatever it wanted, as the Rams were an efficient 28-of-50 from the floor and 24-of-38 inside of 3-point territory.
UNLV was again without Tre'Von Willis, as the senior guard missed his second consecutive game with a sore right knee. He suited up, but the fact that he was wearing two large studded earrings made it clear early that he wasn't going to play.
Willis hasn't played like his old self this season, but the toughness he regularly brings to the floor was sorely needed on Wednesday and will be needed even more on Saturday.
Colorado State's postseason profile is looking better and better by the day, but those of both UNLV and New Mexico — two NCAA tournament teams from a year ago — are beginning to look below average.
The Lobos suffered an 82-72 loss at Utah earlier in the night, and are now 1-3 in the league.
When UNLV and UNM met last year at the Mack, it was one of the biggest games of the MWC season between a pair of nationally ranked teams.
Now, they'll come into the first of two meetings this season on Saturday at 1 p.m. both desperate.
It may be a bit early to start mentioning the dreaded NCAA tournament bubble, but the Rebels will be even more firmly on the outside of it with another loss this week. The Lobos' might burst if they drop to 1-4.
"Every game is a big game for us," Stanback said. "But this one in particular will be a big game because we've dug ourselves a hole that we have to get out of."