REBELS BASKETBALL:

UNLV’s sense of urgency heightened after bottoming out against Colorado State

Rebels, Lobos in the same boat entering Saturday’s matinee at the Mack

Image

Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV forward Quintrell Thomas is swarmed by Colorado State players while reaching for a rebound during Wednesday’s game at the Thomas & Mack Center. Colorado State won the game 78-63.

Updated Friday, Jan. 21, 2011 | 5:30 p.m.

UNLV vs. New Mexico

  • UNLV Rebels (14-5, 2-3) vs. New Mexico Lobos (13-6, 1-3)

  • Where: Thomas & Mack Center

  • When: 1 p.m.

  • Coaches: Lon Kruger is 151-67 in his seven seasons at UNLV and 469-300 in 25 overall seasons; Steve Alford is 89-32 in four seasons at UNM and 397-215 in 20 overall seasons.

  • Series:UNLV leads 25-15.

  • Last time:UNM won, 76-66, in Las Vegas on Feb. 10, 2010.

  • Line: UNLV by 9.5

  • TV/Radio:Versus/ESPN Radio 1100 AM/98.9 FM

  • THE REBELS

  • G Oscar Bellfield (6-2, 185, Jr.) 10.7 ppg, 3.9 apg, 2.5 rpg.

  • G Anthony Marshall (6-3, 200, So.) 10.7 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 2.6 apg.

  • G Derrick Jasper (6-6, 215, Sr.) 7.7 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 2.1 apg.

  • F Chace Stanback (6-8, 210, Jr.) 12.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg.

  • F Brice Massamba (6-10, 240, Jr.) 4.4 ppg, 2.2 rpg.

  • Bench:G Tre'Von Willis (6-4, 195, Sr.) 12.0 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 3.0 apg; F Quintrell Thomas (6-8, 245, So.) 5.1 ppg, 4.2 rpg; G Justin Hawkins (6-3, 190, So.) 6.1 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 1.3 apg; F Carlos Lopez (6-11, 215, Fr.) 4.7 ppg, 3.1 rpg; G-F Karam Mashour (6-6, 200, Fr.) 2.8 ppg.

  • What to watch: 3-point shooting will be big for UNLV in what is certain to be a fast-paced affair. In their last three games, the Rebels are a combined 9-of-57 from the arc. That's not going to cut it if UNLV is going to take this must-win affair from New Mexico.

  • THE LOBOS

  • G Dairese Gary (6-1, 205, Sr.) 13.7 ppg, 5.3 apg, 2.9 rpg.

  • G Kendall Williams (6-3, 170, Fr.) 11.6 ppg, 4.6 apg, 3.1 rpg.

  • G Phillip McDonald (6-5, 200, Jr.) 11.4 ppg, 4.9 rpg.

  • F Drew Gordon (6-9, 245, Jr.) 11.5 ppg, 8.6 rpg.

  • F A.J. Hardeman (6-8, 225, Jr.) 7.9 ppg, 4.1 rpg.

  • Bench: F-C Alex Kirk (6-11, 230, Fr.) 7.3 ppg, 5.1 rpg; G Jamal Fenton (5-9, 170, So.) 6.3 ppg, 2.1 apg; F Chad Adams (6-6, 190, So.) 3.9 ppg; G Tony Snell (6-7, 195, Fr.) 3.4 ppg.

  • What to watch: If it makes any sense, Dairese Gary is posting better numbers almost completely across the board than he did as a junior, but isn't having as good of a season as he did as a junior. His problem? Inconsistency. If he can figure it out, the Lobos are that much better. Though they lost, a week ago, in an 87-77 setback against San Diego State, he had 23 points, seven assists and only one turnover. UNM needs more of that from him.

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Wednesday's surprising 78-63 loss to Colorado State was the fifth setback UNLV has suffered this season.

But this one felt different than the others.

"The sense of urgency is way beyond what it was before," sophomore forward Quintrell Thomas said. "When we lost earlier in the season, there was one bad loss, and that was UC Santa Barbara. Now, we have potentially a couple of bad losses on our résumé, so the sense of urgency is great now.

"We're one of the bottom teams in the conference, below .500 in the conference and we have to focus on, basically, winning out, because nobody wants to go to the NIT."

UNLV's ultimate postseason fate is still a long way off, but the Rebels' most lopsided loss of the season served as a reality check.

The flow of the game was dictated for almost a full 40 minutes by the upstart Rams, and that seemed to be what stuck most with the Rebels, who ran a generous portion of full-court, uptempo drills during Thursday's practice back at the Mack.

Anthony Marshall and Chace Stanback again played well, and Thomas had his best performance off of the bench in weeks, but positives were few and far between.

Wednesday night was essentially a breaking point after more than a month of inconsistent play, which saw UNLV (14-5 overall, 2-3 MWC) put on all kinds of different performances.

They'd fought hard and come up just short (at San Diego State), shown extended flashes of the team that steam-rolled through everyone in November and early December (vs. TCU) and had to dig deep for a comeback win that was tougher than expected (at Air Force).

The Rebels didn't live and die by the outside shot on Wednesday as much as they have in recent outings, but they were notably out-hustled, which didn't sit well with the coaching staff.

"We've been all over the board, and we can't have that," coach Lon Kruger said. "We have to be consistent with our fight, consistent with our effort.

"I think given that we haven't shot it well. We have to fight, compete and get stops and try to get loose balls. That needs to be the identity because we can control that part. I think if we're just going to settle and have the result be based upon did we shoot it well, I don't think that would be a comfortable identity."

If you're looking for a silver lining, it's that the heightened sense of urgency couldn't come at a better time. Saturday's home tilt against New Mexico has now become much bigger for both teams than it already was going to be.

Like UNLV, UNM was an NCAA tournament team a year ago. However, the Lobos, who won the Mountain West's regular season title last season, have fallen off much further than the Rebels since then.

The Lobos are 13-6 overall but only 1-3 in league play with two bad losses already in the bag, falling at both Wyoming and Utah in the last week.

Saturday's winner will have new life breathed into its season as the mid-way point of the MWC schedule approaches, while the loser's résumé takes another massive hit.

From UNLV's perspective, the hope is that a win could help the Rebels get closer to playing the way they were in late November and early December during a 9-0 start to the season.

"Everything is a process. It was a process leading up to (the hot start) and it was a process leading up to how we're playing now," Thomas added. "It's definitely going to be a process getting back to where we were before. It's definitely a lot harder than anybody would think.

"I think we got a little complacent, and now we're paying for it."

A quick scouting report on New Mexico

• The Lobos' most important player a year ago, it could be argued, was point guard Dairese Gary. As a senior, he's averaging more points (13.7) and assists (5.3) than he did last season, but hasn't been nearly as consistent. He's averaging a career-worst 2.7 turnovers per game, but is still capable of stellar performances against top competition. Last Saturday, in an 87-77 home loss to San Diego State, he had 23 points, seven assists and no turnovers.

• New Mexico's other inconsistent star is junior UCLA transfer Drew Gordon. UNLV had Gordon in for a visit after he left the Bruins' program last winter, but never extended a scholarship offer. He was chosen as the MWC's preseason Newcomer of the Year, and has shown why at times. In that SDSU loss, he had 23 points and 14 boards, preceded by a 15-point, 16-rebound performance in a victory over Colorado State a few days earlier. If he's on, he can give the Rebels' struggling front line fits.

• The x-factor for UNM will be how its freshmen perform. 6-foot-3 guard Kendall Williams is shooting 50 percent from 3-point range and is second on the team in points per game (11.6). 6-foot-11 forward/center Alex Kirk came off of the bench for the first time in the Lobos' loss at Utah on Wednesday night, and is averaging 7.3 points and 5.1 rebounds a game. Kirk can spread a defense with his surprising shooting ability from the outside.

Willis's status for Saturday undetermined

Senior guard Tre'Von Willis, who has sat out of UNLV's last two games with a sore right knee, missed practice again on Thursday. He spent his time rehabbing with exercises on the stairs in the Mack's lower bowl alongside Kendall Wallace.

While Willis hasn't played to the same level this season that he did a year ago as a First Team All-MWC performer, his leadership and toughness has been sorely missed.

He again sat out all 5-on-5 drills on Friday, but did take part in shooting exercises, and Kruger will make Willis's status a game-time decision.

Smith on campus, will begin practice after UNM game

Redshirting Marquette transfer Reggie Smith showed up toward the tail end of Thursday's practice in street clothes with a backpack.

He's enrolled in classes and will begin practicing with the Rebels on either Sunday or Monday once he is fully cleared physically.

Smith, who started five of the eight games he played for Marquette this season, will be eligible for UNLV at the conclusion of the Fall 2011 semester as a redshirt sophomore with 2.5 years to play.

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  1. Well I hope for next years sake smith and moser can shoot better than our guys this year.

  2. I hope the guys can rally and beat the lobos. No more losses at home!

  3. Regardless whether we shoot it well or not, I want to see the intensity that I saw them play with earlier in the year. Last two games against AFA and CSU we came out extremely soft defensively and then pressured hard when we were down. This team should pin their ears back and come after every team right from the tip. There is not a single team in this league that we cannot turnover including SDSU and BYU. I hope Kruger has had a few Frank Martin moments with some of our guys in practice the last two days. Wake up Rebels!

  4. I'm pretty sure that Smith will be considered a redshirt freshman and have 3.5 years left of eligibility...

  5. We need a "W" here for sure. No if's and's or but's about it. I really hope Willis plays. I know he hasn't been himself lately, but teams still give him respect out there which creates opportunities for everyone else. He also can catch fire at any minute. Just another option for our struggling offense.

  6. COME ON LET'S GET IT GOING REBELS, YOU ARE BETTER THAN THIS!

  7. Who would have thought that losing Wallace and/or Shaw has really hurt our team badly? The shooting has been pretty rough for a long time now and I'm not sure we can call it a slump anymore at this point.

    The most disappointing thing was the lack of effort and intensity, especially during the CSU game. Even when we made our runs, we'd get close or pull even and then a call would go against us and we'd fold up for 3 or 4 minutes while CSU took control again. It was the most disappointing effort I've seen in a couple years.

    I've been hearing rumblings from multiple sources that there is something going on behind the scenes that is affecting the team. I know QT is unhappy with the lack of playing time he's been getting, and I think he has every right to be. He showed promise early in the year, but how can he continue to round into form and develop when he's getting 4 minutes a game? Mashour is unhappy about the lack of playing time he has been getting, but he was told point blank by Kruger that he wouldn't play much this year and should red shirt, but he decided not to. That one's on him, but I think he'll start getting more time because he did some good things against CSU. Tre'von is just frustrated overall because he is struggling on the court, now he's injured and the team is struggling. He can't do what he did last year and its killing him.

    This season looks like its going down the tubes in a hurry. We can still turn it around, but something needs to change quickly. It starts with New Mexico. Right now we're battling to be the 4th best team in the conference and it will be tough to come back from a 2-4 start in conference, especially is that includes starting 1-3 at home. I'm not bailing on the season just yet, but it's not looking good.

  8. Not only do we have to win all our home games which includes San Diego St., but we also have to win a majority of our road games including @ BYU.

  9. This is turning out just like Wink's last year. Great expectations but the team dynamics ruined it. Back then it was Wink and Willis not getting along. This year I think it is Willis and the rest of the team. We play better as a team. We started off as one of the best teams in the country. Chace was one of the better players in the country back then and now we are not improving and actually going downhill, fast. Kruger needs to coach and get this team re-focused and to gel.

  10. Mike, I have heard similar rumblings as well about player unrest on the team. Not to pile on, but another problem under Kruger. While some will say Kruger can't be blamed for the three B's as he inherited them from Spoon, he does have to face criticism in this area for this year's squad, Wink's senior season and particular players that immediately come to mind like Tree, Lamar Roberson, DeShawn Mitchell, Troy Cage and Hamga. There is something failing to transpire in the recruiting/evaluation process as chemistry/morale has definitely been an issue at times.

  11. Anyone have a clue why Kruger refuses to play two bigs at the same time? Everytime I listen to his radio interviews, no one asks him about it. Also, I believe the chemistry issue...something happened during half time during the Louieville game (or at least I hope that's the explanation).

  12. I think he likes to keep the defensive pressure up and playing two bigs at once would slow that down considerably. Also, Jasper and Stanback are our best rebounders, not our bigs, so he doesn't see a great need to play two at once.

  13. We look like Texas from last year. Great start then dropped ten games in conference. But this year they rebounded. Hopefully we can learn from our mistake 2 years ago and Texas mistakes last year.

  14. I think that is exactly it, Rebel Ben. As pitiful as our offense is at times, Kruger must think scoring production would be even worse if two bigs were in together. On another note, I'd like to see them run some plays for Stanback's 16 foot jumpshot from the baseline like last year. Recently they've been kicking it out to him at the three point line and he does a fake and tries to get a couple steps inside. I liked his old catch and shoot better.

  15. That would make sense if they were keeping up the same kind of defensive pressure, but they aren't. They apply token pressure every now and then, but even teams with so-so point guards are breaking it easily. They've been able to throw the long pass up to half court because nobody is waiting on the back end to fly and and intercept those passes. Its easy to sit back and say that putting two bigs in would lessen the defensive pressure, but they've lessened the pressure themselves because of poor effort.
    At this point, they need to try something different and look for the players that are giving max effort every time they hit the floor. Play Carlos or Brice at the 5, they both play hard, even if it doesn't work out all the time. QT at the 4. His mistakes are all because he's being too aggressive. Id rather have that than someone being too passive. Play Chace at the 3 and then play some combination of Marshall, Bellfield and Hawkins. That's the group that will give you maximum effort. Hell, I'd rather see Karam get more minutes. He was making things happen driving the baseline and we all know how much he wants to play. I just can't handle seeing another game like the CSU game again. Our effort in that game was a joke! I can handle losing when the team at least looks like they care and plays with purpose. I saw neither on Wednesday.