REBELS BASKETBALL:

UNLV blasted by Illinois, 73-62, sent packing early from NCAAs yet again

Rebels’ ugliest offensive half of the 2010-11 season, poor defensive execution lead to early exit

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV players, from left, Tre’Von Willis, Brice Massamba, Quintrell Thomas and Karam Mashour leave the court after their game against Illinois in the second round of the NCAA basketball championships Friday, March 18, 2011, at the BOK Center in Tulsa. Illinois won the game 73-62.

UNLV vs. Illinois

UNLV players, from left, Tre'Von Willis, Brice Massamba, Quintrell Thomas and Karam Mashour leave the court after their game against Illinois in the second round of the NCAA basketball championships Friday, March 18, 2011, at the BOK Center in Tulsa. Illinois won the game 73-62. Launch slideshow »

Ryan Greene NCAA tourney

Las Vegas Sun sports reporter Ryan Greene talks basketball on KSNV live from the NCAA Tournament via Skype, March 18, 2011.

UNLV vs. Illinois

KSNV coverage of UNLV's NCAA Tournament loss to Illinois, March 18, 2011.

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TULSA, Okla. — So much of this season's success for the UNLV men's basketball team depended on the health of senior stalwart Tre'Von Willis's balky, battle-worn lower body.

But even had the senior guard's left knee not gone out on him late in the first half, it's not likely he could have done much to reverse the course that the Rebels were sent down by a firing-on-all-cylinders Illinois team on Friday night in Tulsa, Okla.

For the second straight year, it was one-and-done for UNLV in the NCAA tournament, crashing hard in 73-62 fashion at the BOK Center.

The final score made the landslide look less severe than it actually was, as a blistering first half from the Illini put them up by 22 points at the break and gave them the luxury of cruising into a Sunday match-up with top-seeded Kansas, with a Sweet Sixteen berth on the line.

"We didn't expect it to happen like this," senior swingman Derrick Jasper said from the corner of the Rebels' somber locker room. "We expected to at least give them a game, compete with them a little bit, but it wasn't a game the whole game. It was an (11-point) game at the end, but it really wasn't that close."

The Illini (20-13) started hot, but a 15-0 run midway through the opening stanza gave them all the edge they needed.

In the first 20 minutes, Illinois was a blistering 17-of-27 from the floor, with 10 of those buckets being either dunks or layups against a UNLV defense that simply couldn't apply consistent pressure. The show was orchestrated right from go by the guy who UNLV (24-9) knew it had to try and bother coming in — Demetri McCamey.

"I mean, we came in with the right mindset, but we just didn't slow down the player that we needed to," UNLV sophomore forward Quintrell Thomas said. "McCamey got off and that's pretty much what decided the game."

UNLV, meanwhile, was rushed on the offensive end and never looked comfortable. Mixed into a 7-of-26 performance from the outside were a couple of air-balls from deep and even a corner three off the side of the backboard.

Even though the Rebels had endured lower scoring halves this season, with all things considered, it definitely was their worst 20-minute stretch in the 2010-11 campaign.

For Illinois, it was the type of virtuoso performance that many have known the talented group was capable of the entire season, but Bruce Weber's club simply had trouble pulling it, or anything that even resembled it, off consistently all season.

The Rebels at least gave a strong effort in the second half, but the hole was much too deep to crawl completely out of, and the season ended with a resounding thud, sure to not be forgotten anytime soon.

The unfortunate cherry on top for UNLV was the injury to Willis's left knee, which is the same one he hurt in the middle of the season late in a loss at San Diego State.

"I went out at halftime, started warming up and I kind of knew that it might not agree with me," he said. "I like to think of myself as the leader of this group. The leader always wants to go out swinging and put up a fight. I wasn't able to do that today, and I'm very disappointed right now."

Willis sat at the end of the bench with a blank stare on his face and a towel draped over his shoulders for the game's final 17 minutes, and the sting of the loss could be best measured by the fact that he was pushed to tears for the first time publicly in three seasons at UNLV in the post-game locker room.

"All good things must come to an end," said Willis, who ended his collegiate career as the program's 16th all-time leading scorer. "I just wish I could have at least been out there at the end, in the second half to at least battle with my teammates."

Willis's decorated UNLV run closed with a 1-for-6 shooting performance in 21 painful minutes, including five points and four assists. The Rebels were led by Oscar Bellfield, who scored 14 points, and 13 apiece from Chace Stanback and Anthony Marshall, but much of that came during an up-and-down second half with the game already decided.

On the night, UNLV was 21-of-54 from the field — it's first sub-40 percent performance in seven games — and a spotty 7-of-24 from deep.

For Illinois, senior forward Mike Davis was a force for all 39 minutes he was on the floor, tallying 22 points, nine rebounds and five assists, while McCamey played with incredible purpose, putting away 17 points of his own to go with seven helpers.

Going out the way UNLV did in last year's NCAA tournament, when Northern Iowa pulled off a 69-66 upset with a late Ali Farokhmanesh, was easier for the Rebels to digest than this.

They were again favored to escape their tourney opener and again were left to change their originally scheduled flights home from the Midwest.

"With our size, we're built to out-play teams," Willis continued. "If you out-hustle and out-play them, then you've got to make shots. In the first half, we weren't making any shots, and that's a deadly combination for us."

This brings on an offseason that the Rebels can only hope is less eventful than last year's, which included Willis's off-court troubles and subsequent right knee surgery, Matt Shaw's one-year suspension from the NCAA that ended his UNLV career and Kendall Wallace's torn right ACL in August.

Only Willis and Jasper are not expected to be back, while the Rebels will add in some nice pieces in the forms of highly-skilled and versatile UCLA transfer Mike Moser, 6-foot-6 Canadian forward Grandy Glaze and, after the fall semester, Marquette defector Reggie Smith. Wallace will also be back for a delayed senior season.

UNLV will still be deep and athletic, but Year Eight of the Lon Kruger era will include high expectations, likely some increased pressure for better postseason results and signs that the program's ceiling hasn't been reached under the current regime.

And Year Eight, just like Year Seven, gets started a bit earlier and rougher than expected.

"I'm optimistic," Thomas said. "It hurts now, but eventually we'll be able to look back and say that we learned something from it."

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  1. Very tough loss Rebels. Thank you seniors for your hard work the years you have been here. Good luck in your future endeavors as well.

    Cheers to getting to the tournament again, and let's look forward to next season. Is it November yet?

  2. Tough loss guys. You gave us a great year. All the players and coaches should be proud. You'll get'em next year. Thanks.

  3. Just a couple of questions!
    What happened to our defense?
    Did we forget how to rebound?
    Why didn't we start throwing up three's in the second half?
    Why didn't we push the ball more all season?

    We should have been scoring in the 80's with the players we have. I think Kruger plays too conservative, like 20-24 wins is good enough. Not at UNLV. We should be making some noise in the tournament every year. We play too predictable. Give any coach a week to prepare against us and we are toast. What happened to the intesity we played with in November against Wisconsin and Virginia Tech?

  4. What a roller coaster season. That first half was an embarrassment, with at least some redemption coming late in the second half. UNLV deserves a team that can play 40 minutes with intensity every game. Let's see if that happens in 2011-2012.

  5. UNLV will still be deep and athletic? Outside of Anthony Marshall we have no one with great quickness, speed or leaping ability. All year long we struggled to get past defenders and ended up with contested jump shots. Illinois had us scouted perfectly. Go underneath screens, sag in the lane and make our guys shoot jump shots over outstretched hands. Meanwhile their guards and bigs blew by our guys all night long. We have mediocre athletes with mediocre skill sets. We see it when we play BYU and SDSU. BYU may not have great athletes but they have terrific skill sets and that firepower wins lots of games. SDSU may not have terrific skill sets but they have incredible athletes that can make plays and shut teams down. Mediocre players deliver mediocre results. I have not seen Moser or Smith so I do not know exactly what they bring but Glaze is the exact type of player we already have: Mediocre athlete with a mediocre skill set. He is also a 6'6" power forward with a very limited perimeter game. Not exactly what the doctor ordered. Coach Kruger needs to step up his game and get some better talent in a UNLV uniform. Twenty win seasons are nice. Being more competitive is nice. But all of us want UNLV to be great again and slipping into the NCAA tourney and getting bounced in the first round each year is not good enough.

  6. This was a team devoid of on-court leaders. It just seemed like a collection of somewhat talented individuals but nothing to bind them together or push them to the next level.

  7. Who cares if you have athleticism like Marshall if you cant make any baskets and shoot air balls all night..!? We need some sort of a new recipe. Year after year we recruit the same kinda of athletic player which end up having lack of offensive production because of not just having the basic of a solid jump shot. We have defensive specialist???? Really, Hawkins is a joke really, and we do not need such a role. Kruger needs to switch it up, because year after year it ends up being the same story......

  8. For the last three years we've been hearing we have the talent to compete with the big boys. What we have is a bunch of guys who are average at best. Still the question i ask is why our players seem to get worse the longer their here. Every year our guards get bigger and slower and the coaches don't know how to get the potential out of our bigs. Even though the talent isn't the best, with the experience we have coming back and additional pieces of transfers, "or other teams leftovers", expectations will be high. But what we've come to find out is with any bit of expectations this team wilts under the pressure. There's no reason this team should be, at worse, a five loss team with a conference regular season and tournament championship heading into the ncaa's next year. But if we come out playing the same style of ball and lose home games to below average teams "ucsb and csu" and finish with 8 or 9 losses, it's time for a change.

  9. No time outs taken in the first half as that 15-0 run started and the game getting ugly????

  10. Who did not see this coming? With the cuts to education UNLV will soon no longer be a DIV 1 school. Now that is good news. Atleast UNLV will be playing the competition it deserves.

  11. Well if you ask me I think it's fair to call us the Utah state of nevada. Near the seasons end we almost dropped every big game. Can't win a tourney game. And have guys who shoot to many threes. We are a clone. Next year we get more depth but lose the best player and NOBODY really showed any signs of stepping up to be that person next year. Here's the deal. I like Kruger and there should be no talk of losing him. With that said, if we don't get back to the 16 in the next two years then we reached a ceiling and either he goes or he gets a new assistant who can recruit.

  12. Question? Who cares? Win or lose, no sports team changes my life in any shape, manner or form. Get a life, folks! Read a book or take a walk. That'll do more for you then any bunch of pampered athletes on the court, diamond or field!

  13. This score is is awful and something smells as though peanut butter was used to bait rat traps when the referees were calling their calls.

    Sonny Liston's life story was retold on champion again and this time the story ends differently. The question will always be did Sonny take a count to help the mouth through his life to a bad end.

  14. Tough loss for the Rebels. If you are one of the people who believed UNLV should have been a 5-6 seed, put us in the company of Louisville, Vanderbilt, St. John's, Texas A&M, Xavier and Georgetown. All of those teams have solid high-profile high recruiting coaches and staff, yet they lost in the 'true' first round of the tourney this year in upsets. Its a freak year, all of our brackets are busted and things probably wont make sense until the Elite 8.

    Our team just didn't have the consistency we had found over the last six games. Illini somehow got up in our player's heads and regressed us back to the poor-shooting team of mid-season. Blame should be equally shared between staff and team, but it's just one game. The phrase 'any given Sunday' applies in basketball too, especially when its win or go home.

    It's tough to find optimism after the disaster that was last night's game, but that is what makes UNLV special, fan support. We've had a taste of the championship unlike most schools, and we want more. Basketball is king at UNLV, and its the biggest show in town.

    GO REBELS, thanks for an entertaining season in the more competitive than ever MWC.
    www.RebelReign.com

  15. Lets face it Kruger's strategy of playing Stanback at power forward, Q at center, Marshall at small forward only works against inferior talented teams. What's inexcusable is to not change your strategy when you play much more talented teams. It was painful to watch Q try to guard a 7 foot center and Chase try to guard a legitimate power forward in Davis who scored 22 points with 9 rebounds. Stanback is a small forward at best. Kruger has to be either one of the most stubborn coaches I've ever seen, or a coach who is over the hill and can't see the obvious adjustments that need to made in a game by game basis.

  16. Why is this embarrassing loss a surprise to anyone? Think of it as "budget fatigue." You can't cut education to the bone, including slashing entire degree programs, and still expect a winning athletic team. What other school in the NCAA tournament is considering declaring bankruptcy?! What a joke.

  17. Hey Bato, what happen to shooting holmes !!

  18. Illinois had too many uncontested layups in transition when the Rebels didn't hustle back and too many entries into the paint when they too easily beat our perimeter defender. We were out sized, out skilled and out coached. What hurt the most were TV analyst Steve Kerr's derisive comments about our play and scheme in the first half. He was correct, sad to say. They're just kids, of course, and hopefully those who leave us will go on to do great things with their lives.

  19. UNLV Rebels need a new name. Drop the Rebels and come up with a better name. No players with tatoo's, no players with a criminal record, no players that can only trash talk. Better luck next year!

  20. @homeboylv yea, I'm sure the tattoos and the team name is the problem for everything. Wow.

  21. I really think Japser should have started in place of Marshall - Next season please......

    C-Lopez
    PF-QT
    SF-Stanback
    SG-Marshall (or Wallace since Marshall can't shoot)
    PG-Oscar

  22. The problem is not that we lost. It's that we have like ten top fifty recruits watching us and we showed them that if you come here we can help you lose in the first round. Once is a fluke twice is a pattern. What is up with the tards on here that keep talking about cutting budgets. Not related. Get a life and someday you'll relize overspending equals bankruptcy when the budget gets tight. If you don't believe me look at an areal pic of unlv from the 90's then one from today. All those new buildings ( some were needed) cost alot of money in loans that they now cant pay.

  23. Djkgroup: You get a life. As a UNLV prof, I know exactly what I am talking about. You can't have quality athletics without quality academics. Why would a top recruit come to a school in risk of losing its Div. I status? This is a very real possibility if things continue to go south for UNLV. Bone up on your facts, dude. In the long run, it's completely related - regardless of what you say.

  24. For what it's worth, I studied at UNLV and earned a degree there in 1990. We didn't have all the new buildings and all the new degrees and emphasis degrees and departments. We studied in the "new" library (which is now the "old" library), and the department in which I studied held classes in old buildings with none of the new mod cons. The UNLV Runnin' Rebels Basketball Team happened to be NCAA Champions that year.

  25. Mr. Fink, I find it disingenuous that you would spend time commenting on a news story about athletics, only to tell us that athletics are a waste of time and that those of us who care should, "Get a life ... Read a book or take a walk" -- as if commenting on this story did something to elevate your life in the way you suggest we elevate ours.

    The UNLV campus, its cultural programming, and its athletic teams, particularly the mens basketball team, have long served as sources of community in Southern Nevada. That is worth far more in terms of good citizenship than negatively commenting on websites.

  26. Once again Kruger was too stubborn or ? to change a strategy that was not working. Chase does not have the frame to play power forward against mid-west teams. Q was recruited as a power forward, yet only played there for part of one game. We need assistants that will challange with different thoughts. A bench of all K-State players under Kruger is not working.

    If we are going to play four guards and a forward, we need to play defense the way Tark and Grgurich taught it, and run the ball up the court. Instead we play half-court offense with players that are designed to run. Something needs to change.

  27. Big picture...I'll give Kruger his due. We lost our two best shooters (on perimeter based team) & our best player was hurt pretty much all yr and a shell of what he was last season. Plus, he was able to pull us out of that mid season funk when most teams wouldve folded....But still, we grind out 20+ wins & a tourney berth. So...big picture...the season wasnt a total loss. And thats coaching.

    Having said that, however....

    I am disappointed in our rigidity and lack of versatility both lineup & scheme wise. I'm not so critical about it defensively...I understand hanging your hat on man to man and getting into people...but this team was obviously offensively challenged and couldnt shoot it consistently so being perimeter based was destined to be feast or famine. We all saw it coming & Kruger didnt? My question is Where was the alternative? Like playing two bigs, pounding the ball inside, playing high/low or inside/out to get open perimeter looks & higher percentage shots. Instead we just hold the ball too long, toss it around the perimeter, or drive it into a clogged lane. Meanwhile, 3 of our 5 guard rotation are below avg shooters. Our bigs combined had 9 shots yesterday and our PG had only two...yes two....assists. Obviously what we're doing isnt working. You gotta have a Plan B. And we didnt...and thats coaching too.

    The fatal flaw, however, (and has me very worried about next season) is we are heinously devoid of leadership & game instinct. Go down the list of the Rebels best teams...from RSmith to DTark, Wade, Anthony, Kruger, & Terry...ALL of them knew how to play, didnt get rattled, and knew what to do with the ball & when. And with Tre leaving we dont have one guy who even remotely has those intangibles. If Oscar & Chase dont step up in a big, big way...and give up their propensity to play like a deer in the headlights when things arent going well....next year could be more of the same. Either way, I'll be there to find out.

  28. I too will give Kruger his due. He is the best coach on the entire planet and Las Vegas should...consider naming the city after him. He reflects our expectations for high achievement and his high salary in this time of economic challenge should increase with the fever of Rebel myopia. The Rebels reached the field of 68 and that is all that this community can ever ask of one of its most well compensated hero's. (Comment reviewed by staff. Not critical of Lon Kruger).

  29. Marshall will be the leader next year. He's the rebel with the best attitude and demeanor for the position.

  30. As much as we are disappointed by the final game, I bet the players are 10x more disappointed. They played hard, and expectations this season were low from losing some players. The team really lacks toughness and next year scorers. Kruger is a great coach, and it's ok to be critical, but he knows his players better than any of us do.

  31. Losing Wallace and Shaw really hurt. Marshall is just a great athlete not a basketball player. Oscar is on and off. Stanbach is a three not a four. We don't have a four. Thomas had 2 good games all year. Lopez was not ready, but could be.

  32. We still had a good season. The guys coming in next year will help with Reggie Smith being able to really push the pace and the shooting of Wallace will be welcomed. The one thing that will still be missing is a shot blocker. Someone protecting the rim allows our defense to pressure even more on the perimeter. Looking forward to next year already.

  33. What time do the Rebels play Kansas tomorrow? I can't wait to see them do all the things to the Jayhawks that everyone on here said they would do. You guys told me how motivated Q Thomas is to beat his former team and that he's got something up his sleeve for the Morris twins. Man this is going to be a good game!

  34. Man, you must really like chicken fingers!

  35. Not a big basketball fan..but 1990 was a great year for the sport and the Rebs..I remember them parading up the strip with Tark after winning the the tournament..It's been a long 21 years since then..Maybe I'll see it again before I croak..Hope so..

  36. Your Canes play Monday against Missouri State in the big boys tournament...remind me to set the DVR for that one!

  37. You're right Canes.. our pathetic UNLV squad would never beat the great Miami Hurricane basketball team that has numerous championships and pedigree, far beyond what UNLV will ever have. We played in the sissy NCAA Tournament, the pinnacle of "mediocrity", Miami is playing in the NIT, the tournament of greatness. Maybe someday we can live up to the all around sublimity of your ZERO appearances in the Final Four, and a grand total of ONE notable team school history
    . Your favorite squad's 19-14 season will go down in history as one of the greatest teams ever in sports.

    In other words, go whine somewhere where your program isn't considered inferior troll.

  38. UNLV ran into a buzz saw.
    Illinois played out of their minds.

    That said;
    a .500 club in the Big Ten, and floundering down the stretch, Illinois made our Rebels look like they were WAY out of their league.
    From the get-go, this looked like a Duke/Hampton matchup, and UNLV was NOT Duke.

    The worst part was that everyone ELSE watching, including the announcers who mentioned it more than once, thought the same thing.

  39. Canes - How did your Hoyas do?

  40. Something needs to be done to make strides with the program in recruiting and coaching. If you need to hire a high school coach with connections to talent that can be NBA Draft Choices - then hire him. Everyone else seems to be doing it. For a guy with NBA Coaching background he has not had a NBA #1 draft choice. Too many transfers, not enough top rated high school talent. He has not landed a top high school recruit, even with Findlay Prep in it's own backyard. I look at a Gonzaga bench and it has a former Utah Head Coach, a former Cal Fullerton Head Coach - outside of Hensen with his Kansas State connections - who are these guys?

    Marshall is the only leader on this squad. They need some toughness on the front line as well. Schedule against Pac 10 teams, play on the road and become battle tested instead of taking on Southern Utah and Central Michigan at home.

    Hard to want to push Kruger out, but for a guy with his background in coaching and with so much talent that returned they just underachieved. When he saw his team jacking up 3 pointers, he needed to call a time out and get them focused. Even with the upsets, what team in this tournament admitted that they did not come out with energy? It was so bad ESPN only bothered to show one highlite.

    They need to land a Shabaz Muhammad and get one of these local stud high schoolers to stay in Vegas. Watching Elijah Johnson play at Kansas and Billy White at SDSU has become frustrating to say the least. Let a Hawkins go, cant shoot and get his scholarship to a kid who can help. Put a stop to all of this transfer recruitment. There is a reason why they could not make it with their old program.

    Changes need to be made and I hope that Kruger as well as Livengood sit down to take a hard look at why a school with such great facilities now and to come, cant win a game in the NCAA tourney in the face of improving programs with SDSU, Colorado State and New Mexico. Even Boise State will push them next year.

    If there is no changes - expect much of the same, alot of hype with little substance when it counts.

  41. With the people we lost before the season and the injuries we dealt with, this was a good season. We went in the tank in the middle and pulled our way out to make "The Big Dance"!!
    Do I like us losing in the first round? Of course not! Do I like what Coach is doing compared to the last 20 years? Heck yes I do!
    We have no NCAA issues and win regularly. We play a very tough schedule and have been ranked. Give me a break. If our guys are average talent, blah, blah, blah, then Coach must be better than most of the nay-sayers give him credit for.
    The only criticism I have is that we can't lank the stud recruit like Larry Johnson.
    Great job coach and keep up the great work.

  42. Attention readers who are nostalgic for the Tarkanian era....

    Back then UNLV played in the Big West conference. UNLV had a strong team in a weak conference. People joked that it was the "Big Worst" conference.

    It's different now. We play in a strong conference, that sent three teams to the NCAA tournament. Back in the Tarkanian era, the conference typically sent only one team.