UNLV basketball:

Rebels have only simple explanations for complex loss at Fresno State

UNLV trailed by 16 to the last-place Bulldogs in 64-55 defeat, making coach Dave Rice now 3-9 in road league games

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV head coach Dave Rice waits for his team to assemble during their game against New Mexico Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013 at The Pit in Albuquerque. New Mexico won the game 65-60.

FRESNO, Calif. — Two men spoke in the aftermath and offered the simple explanation, but there was nothing simple about UNLV’s 64-55 loss at Fresno State on Wednesday night. It was multilayered in its ugliness, and compounded with Saturday’s loss at Boise State it leaves a team with lofty national expectations three games back in its own conference.

The Rebels (17-6, 4-4) trailed by 16 in the second half at the Save Mart Center, home to the Mountain West’s only team with a sub.-500 overall record. Excluding the Bulldogs’ (8-13, 2-6) only other league victory, against Wyoming, they didn’t hold a lead of more than eight against a MW opponent. Until they played the Rebels, of course.

The game was tied at halftime and even if the listed attendance of 8,044 were accurate, that’s little more than half what the arena holds. There are intramural league games played at the UNLV Rec Center in front of rowdier and louder fans, yet the Rebels never gave the home crowd a reason to indulge its indifference.

In the end, once UNLV’s fate was sealed, several packs of Bulldogs fans still headed early to the exits, disinterested even in the team’s biggest victory of the season.

The simple explanation of how UNLV reached its new low point of the season, the one offered by coach Dave Rice and echoed by senior point guard Anthony Marshall, was that the Rebels missed open looks while the Bulldogs hit timely shots, a few of them backbreakers at the end of the shot clock.

“We just absolutely could not make a shot tonight,” Rice said. Marshall said the word “shots” eight times in the first minute of his comments.

They’re not wrong, exactly. UNLV got a lot of open looks, particularly in the first half, and didn’t get many of them to fall, shooting 35 percent from the game. Several of them performed the in and out dance with a rim that delivers an extra punch to the gut because you’ve already counted the points in your head.

But that’s not enough. Not when Nevada, San Diego State and Colorado State, the latter two teams supposedly UNLV’s competition for a league crown, had already come to this building and come away with victories.

Marshall finished with 19 points on 7-for-10 shooting with six rebounds in 37 minutes, stellar stats that comfort no one. He was also one of four Rebels to commit at least three turnovers as the team finished with 15 total.

Overall this was different from the Boise loss, Rice said. He called the Rebels’ first-half performance in that one “inexcusable.” This time around there was no such vitriol.

“It was not an effort-based deal,” he said. “Our guys were prepared and ready to play and gave a good effort. Just could not make a basket. I think we lost our confidence a bit on the defensive end because we couldn’t make a shot.”

Cimarron-Memorial High grad Kevin Olekaibe, a junior at Fresno State, scored a game-high 21 points that included four made 3-pointers. Tyler Johnson (15 points, 10 rebounds) and Kevin Foster (13 points on 5-for-6 shooting, eight rebounds) similarly carved up the Rebels’ defense, although as a team the Bulldogs shot only 38.8 percent from the floor.

The Bulldogs’ points came in a variety of ways, including 13 second-chance points off nine offensive rebounds. UNLV’s numbers were almost the exact opposite with nine points off 14 offensive boards.

The Rebels’ Anthony Bennett never found the extra gear that allowed him to takeover against the Broncos the other night. He needed 16 shots to score 15 points, and his nine rebounds were offset to a degree by three turnovers. No other Rebel scored more than seven points. Held scoreless were Mike Moser (0-for 3) and Justin Hawkins, who after an 0-for-4 night is now mired in a 3-for-23 shooting slump.

Rice searched for answers beyond the shooting and never came up with any. At one point he spent 15 seconds looking for the magic words and only came up with “We competed … We just …” before a reporter broke the silence.

Halfway around the arena, Fresno State coach Rodney Terry was giving his first winning press conference in three weeks.

“We played tonight, I think, the most talented team in our league,” Terry said. “You know we’ve got really good teams in our league, but I think man to man down their roster they have the most talent in our league.”

That must read like a backhanded compliment to the talented team that just got mollywhomped, a team that late Wednesday night took what had to be one of the most awkward plane trips in recent memory back to Las Vegas with a group of fans who flew in earlier in the day just for the game.

Yes, if UNLV had made more shots it would have won the game. And you could say the exact same thing for Fresno State, too. It doesn’t explain the turnovers, or losing a lot of 50/50 balls to a team that has only pride to play for, or several players getting visibly agitated at the first signs of failure. It doesn’t explain why these things often happen to UNLV on the road under Rice, who’s 3-9 in league road games, most of them as the favorite.

It’s hard to go away from home and get victories, though UNLV usually at least keeps it close. This wasn’t, and it leaves the Rebels far behind the leaders of the pack and puts them awfully close to the NCAA Tournament bubble.

“Are we just going to lay down or are we going to battle?” said Marshall, who wasn’t asking the question so much as answering that he and his teammates would fight on.

“The only thing I know when you get knocked down,” Rice said, “is to get back up and go to work the next day.”

First-place New Mexico comes to the Thomas & Mack Center on Saturday. A victory in that game once seemed like a bonus and now it’s all but mandatory, because that only cuts the margin to two.

Crazy things happen in this league but UNLV may have to sacrifice the game-to-game changes of chasing that trophy for fixing the systemic issues that may prevent it from snapping a four-game NCAA Tournament losing streak. There’s not a simple explanation or magic answer for what ails the Rebels.

They believe they have enough in their locker room to work through this. Everyone, especially their opponents, know they have the talent. The season’s not over; it just feels that way to a lot of people.

“In situations like this in any season there are two ways to go,” Rice said, “and we’re going to choose to go the way of banding together and making it right.”

Taylor Bern can be reached at 948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Taylor on Twitter at twitter.com/taylorbern.

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  1. Well.. Seems like this is rock bottom for the Rebels.. Not only did they lose to the worst team in the conference, but they did it while looking stiff, scared, and another than Marshall no one was playing with any sort of confidence. Hopefully they can bounce back against New Mexico and go on a bit of a run.

  2. Comment removed by moderator. ALL CAPS

  3. Wow, all I can hope is that the players watch the game and listen to the commentary, because clearly whatever Rice is coaching (if he actually knows how to coach) isn't reaching the players. Maybe being called out repeatedly for failing to box out, take bad shots, figure out how to beat the zone, and just play smart team basketball will wake the players up.

    NIT here we come!

  4. The only way that this program is going to get the message (this year is lost), is if people start talking with their wallets. Sorry Mr. Rice but you are not Head Coach material, the trial period is over.
    If the T&M starts getting sub 8000 crowds, watch how fast things will change.

  5. 55 points? I am sure Dave Rice remembers when that was a good halftime total for the Runnin' Rebels. The Rebels seem totally disconcerted on offense, not sure what to do and not sure of themselves. They spend half their time on offense looking over to the bench to see what play is being called and what to do. It is time to junk the half-court offense. What happened to "Let's Run" and "Run As One"? Let's open up the offense, push the ball on every single possession and let the players use their natural abilities and reactions instead of overthinking every single possession. Let's run the Lobos out of the Thomas & Mack on Saturday!

  6. Another performance like this and we'll start comparing them to our legislature.

  7. He's just not a good coach. Maybe he will be a good coach 2-3 years from now but it is clear he doesn't know what he's doing at this point. The players deserve a lot of blame also. They don't play well together and are underachievers. There is a real chance this team now could be dancing in the NIT. There are still 3 road games left and the way they are playing there is a real possibility they lose all three. Plus they still have games against better teams in NM, San Diego St, Colorado St and Boise St. Plus considering UNLV hasn't won the MWC tournament in 4 or 5 years there could be a loss there also. UNLV had 10 losses in 2008 and went to the NIT. They are only 4 losses away from being a 10 loss team.

  8. I wish people would stop excusing away road losses to bad teams by saying "The MWC is the 2nd strongest in the nation so it's understandable." The conference is a paper tiger, we'll be lucky to get anyone beyond the round of 16.

  9. This season just got flushed down the tubes.....another ill-prepared road performance. This is all on the coaching staff. Losing to a last place team is totally unacceptable.

  10. Rice's lack of an explanation is scary. He doesn't know what the problem is. How's he going to fix it? Livengood will probably give him an extension this week.

    Spell it with me everyone...

    R E G G I E T H E U S

  11. Pathetic- never have I seen so little done with so much. Rice gets an A for recruiting and an F for coaching. Except for Marshall and Birch no one on this team plays team ball. Moser and Bennett are too busy trying to show pro scouts they can make 3's. Dejean Jones thinks he is Michael Jordan and to think Reinhardt was supposed to be some great outside shooter- the guy should quit school and do what he does best- lay bricks. They may win 1 more game- 2 if they get lucky.

  12. A week ago I said the Rebels were still improving. I was wrong. At this point there are no explanations, only excuses

  13. mj20 is spot on Dave Rice is not a good coach, I was very surprized tha he got the job in the frist place. The state of Utah has given us huge blow a fottball coach that stinks, and a basketball coach that doesnt have a clue. In my opinion if Dave Rice is a true rebel he should step down and go looking for a asst. coach job somewhere. This team is lost and doesnt even know what to do onthe court and it is very sad to see our program fall so fast again just for bad bad bad coaching.

  14. What I do not understand is how our coaching staff does not seem to understand how to help this team be successful. Our team plays with no confidence because our coaches coach with no confidence. The players constantly get mixed messages. They are told to run and gun, then when they miss shots and turn it over, they are told to take better care of the basketball and take better shots. When they do this and score in the 60's they are told to get more points in transition. They are told to "Run as One" and then told to play a style of defense that looks out of the pages of Dick Bennett. Pack it in, use minimal ball pressure and guard the paint. From one game to the next the message is always different. How can Coach Rice have spent 3 years with Coach Tark(2 playing, 1 coaching)and several years around coaches like Howie Landa, Tim Grgurich, Bill Bayno, Max Good, Charlie Spoonhour, Jay Spoonhour, Stew Morrill, and Dave Rose and look like he does not have a plan? I am not one that thinks that Coach Rice should be canned. His recruiting has been very good, he still has a very good overall record and the Rebels are at least part of the conversation in basketball circles. However, unless he decides to stop trying to be his player's friend, puts a solid plan in place to help these players improve individually and collectively, and begins to make better in game adjustments, the Rebels will continue to be very much like they were during the Kruger era. A 2nd-4th place team in the conference, and a first weekend exit in the NCAA's. Not sure that will be enough year in and year out for Coach Rice to keep his job.

  15. Let's see...most MWC coaches and other so-called experts say the Rebels have the most talent in the league yet those talented kids look like a bunch of high schoolers in back-to-back games against the MWC cellar-dwellers.

    Hmmm... Wonder what the problem is if it isn't lack of talent...

    (tick, tock...tick, tock)

    Gotta be coaching, doesn't it? (Yes, that's my final answer.)

  16. The Rebels have five home games left, and I expect them to win all five. That would give us ten conference wins. Even if the Rebels lost the remainder of their road games, they would finish 10-6 in conference play. Add in a win or two in the conference tournament, and that will be enough to make the NCAA Tournament.

  17. barring the Rebels losing out, Dave Rice isn't going to get fired this season, so figure out something new to say.

  18. @JerryWayne - Dave Rice isn't losing out.

    I refuse to make evaluations about Dave Rice's potential as a coach until he has his own guys. The sportswriters who say he has his own guys are mistaken. The most important position, point guard, is being ran by one of Kruger's guys. That inherently limits Dave Rice's ability to run his offense because Marshall isn't a point guard, and he's not comfortable pushing the tempo with the ball in his hands.

  19. well this sucks. gotta say, even those of us who liked theus still wanted rice to succeed when he was ultimately chosen to be coach. we're all rebel fans and want them to be as good as possible. hell, i've defended rice even as i wondered how well we'd be with theus. i am quickly reaching the end of my patience with this coach and this staff. they've recruited well; that's wonderful. in theoretical terms we'd have made the final four already. but there's more to this than pulling highly-ranked high schoolers. the results on the floor are inadequate. if you say you're going to make us a running team the way we used to (and SHOULD) be, great.....do it already. we can all see what's lacking here, so if he can't, well then we don't need to wait forever to make the necessary change.

  20. Can all be forgiven with a win against the Lobos this weekend? Simply no, but it could be a great step in the right direction. Nothing will say "forgive me" more than a win against a top 20 team. Follow that up with a victory on the road at AFA and a second win against SDSU in one season and we are back on the rebellion wagon again. UNLV needs to seize this opportunity and prove that they belong in the tourney. Cause we all know the NIT won't cut it.

    Kansas and UNLV seemed to be on the same wave length last night, both going in to the last place conference team's house and not being able to hit the broad side of a barn. The shot choices weren't bad but the lack of offensive rebounding and our play against the zone is horrendous. With our size and talent it makes me wonder how improvements aren't be made for this more than halfway in to the season. Echoing sentiments of many, the coaching experience is showing, and Dave needs to dig deep and wake this team up. Why does Marshall seem like the only one with some heart on this team. Many of the players slump over, whine, groan and pout when things don't go their way. Where is the adversity and the fire?

    The experience of the team is showing and Rice doesn't seem to know how to deal with that dynamic of coaching such a young team. Thank god Marshall is on this team or I think we may have given up on this season already.

  21. Marshall is not he team's main problem. He is doing everything he can. Kruger would not have used Moser properly. But okay then, let's take a look at his recruits.
    Cook- not physical
    Reinhardt-does he know what defense means? And he can't hit the RIM to save his life on the road
    BDJ-A ballhog
    Bennet-Good player, but bad defensive
    Birch-Opposite of Bennett
    Goodman-Can't do anything right, thank goodness he does not play much.

  22. Bern, do you know Dave Rice read the articles you write or the comments or RebelNet.com or even yesterday LVRJ's article.

  23. Absolutely embarassing...I made the trip to Boise only to see them lose and then get back to see this on TV. I'm done.

  24. Rice is getting out coached every game. He went from a run and gun team that could easily score 100 points to a half court team that can not figure out the zone. Savon Goodman has not been off the bench in the last 5 games as Moser continues to score zero points and is obviously injured. Rice claims how deep the bench is and fails to utilize the bench properly. Goodman should be getting minutes and Moser should be nbenched until he heals.

  25. YE - Your player assesments are pretty accurate on everybody but Goodman. He certainly is not polished, however, he does three things that would be a big help to this team: He plays very hard, he is a terrific rebounder both offensively and defensively and he is a solid defender. I cannot say those three things about many other Rebels this year.

  26. Moser is not even close to 100%......he cant extend his arm straight...you cannot shoot that way.....and on reobonds his isnt capable of snatching them with strength bacause he is clearly protecting the elbow.....it also effects defense where you fight for the ball...not his fault.

  27. SOMEONE please answer me this RE Team IQ: The last two games, Justin Hawkins took the last shot of the half...an important timein both games....yet in each game it was the first shot he ahd taken of the game..Thats team IQ....get the shot for your hot shooter...In addition JHAW, who I like, is in a slump shooting......His misses are poor.....GO TO YOUR STRENGTHS, in each situation.

  28. As the writer charged with the task of covering the Rebels I wish Taylor Bern would press Coach Rich. We are looking for serious journalism not reporters that are "Homers". When Rice says "We Were Prepared" and gives the same canned answers at every news conference we want you to ask what your readers are thinking. C'mon Taylor....step your game up!

    Loyal Sun Subscriber

  29. A few realities:

    Rice isn't an HC yet. He may get there, but until then count on his inexperience costing the team 5 points a night. He needs to take a night off and watch guys like Coach K and Boeheim scream at officials all night. Gets them 2 or 3 more calls a night. Think that makes a difference?

    The Rebels have a lot of overhyped guys on the team that are not elite, despite what the Recruiting Industrial Complex might say.

    Bennett should be dominating bigs, on both ends, that'll be selling cars and insurance after college. Kid's an elite athlete, but if he doesn't stop coasting and toughen up, he's going to have his lunch money taken in the NBA.

    Guys need to listen to the coaches and work a little harder. I call it Rebel Regression, where guys don't seem to ever improve when they get here. Joel Anthony might be the only guy who's made a major developmental leap.

    I'm glad there's beer and plenty of nice looking ladies at the T&M. That puts all of this in proper perspective.

  30. I also am dissapointed in our road performances overall, but have not given up on them yet. There are a few things that greatly bother me:
    1 - Complete lack of fundamentals on blocking out on rebounding. It absolutely amazes me that we can have 2-4 of our guys in position and they watch the opponent get the offensive rebound.

    2 - We seem to have stop running plays to augment the players strengths. The double screen to free up BJD for the mid-range jumper works great when they bother to run it. Running some motion to get an OPEN shot, etc., etc.

    3 - The defensive lapses that keep leaving shooters all over the floor wide open. It happens on the perimeter, under the basket on back door cuts and in transition. Dave, sit them if they don't make the effort on D, please!!

  31. I think the comment about Reporters asking the hard questions in this town to UNLV Coaches is a very fair statement. For years, there was only one Sports Caster on TV who asked tough questions, all while Newspaper, Radio and other TV Talking Heads never challenged UNLV Coaches. Since very few of them even go to practices, let alone games (especially in Football) getting inside to report on what is truly happening.

    Rice really needs to look at his Coaching Staff - he has a Legend in Stacy and a recruiter that he stole from San Diego State. Look at who he conferences with during time outs - a tan former Head Coach with no real success in that role. Tark had Tim and Adams who could coach offense and defense. Rice really needs to look at bringing in a former successful sage Head Coach to be on his bench to help him turn into a better Coach.

    Theus is always going to be there and why he is Coaching in the D League and not with another NCAA program is odd. Reggie could recruit and Coach - he would not look for big dollars. Before this takes place, Rice needs to do what every Football Coach would do if aspects of the team is not working - look for a new Coach to add. If he does not do this - he will have a bunch of individual talents and no glue to get them to play together. The town and the media has fed this team to believe that they are better than they are - with no blue collar work being done away from home.

    Las Vegas Sun - will you ask the tough questions about Rice's Coaching decisions as well as popping this team's ego about what they really are right now? No one else is willing to do this - Channel 8 and Kevin West.

  32. It's hard to play a "running" offense when the only guy that can pass well is your 19 year old backup PG that gets 2 minutes a game. Rice brought in big names in the front court, but he just doesn't have the guards he needs to execute a fast paced offense, which is why they are constantly stagnant in the half court and get very few transition buckets. Apparently, they practice transition offense more than anything, which is probably why they look a bit lost in slow games against good half-court defense.

    I think it's also worth pointing out that the mountain west is not a great place to have a "running" team at the moment either. Many teams in this conference are content with dragging every offensive possession out to 30+ seconds, playing safe zone or non-pressing man defense, and trying to make it so the first team to 60 wins.

    That said, the Rebels still have the talent to be successful, I just think fans got a bit caught up in recruitment rankings and forgot about what it takes to actually make a team.

    It's also worth mentioning that the only guy playing with confidence right now is Marshall. Everyone else doesn't seem to know what exactly they should be doing, or at least don't have the confidence to execute. I'd put some of the blame for that on youth and pressure, but a lot of it has to do with the coaching staff too. I don't think the coaches are idiots, I just think they might be trying to do too much with players who are not ready. They probably need to dial it back, run simple formations and sets, and allow the young guys to build their confidence back up.

  33. Very disappointed in the lack of leadership that we have on this team. Dave Rice I don't know if you do behind close doors but take a page from the book of Coach Knight and get into their faces, yell, scream do something to get their attention! Mr nice guy is not working.

  34. On the plus side, they should be able to make it out of the 1st round of the NIT!

  35. I could not agree more with nearly every single comment on this story so far. The games have been ugly, the "MWC team with the most talent" is severely under-performing and Rice doesn't seem to have the desire to really get after these kids. This team and coaching staff need to get it together....fast.

  36. Simple fix. Marshall cannot play pg. He dominates the ball and stagnates the offense. This inflates his stats and creates a statistical false positive. Hawkins lowers talent level, while I like him 5 minutes a game is the most he can provide. Moser is hurt so Goodman played better at this point, but no minutes. Simple fix = coach wakes up from dream- plays Cook(pg) Marshall(2) Jones(3) Bennett(4) Birch(5). First off bench Reinhardt 4 (Marshall) second Goodman 4 (Jones) Third (Thomas or Lopez) depending on matchups and defense (hint: zone=Lopez Thomas=man). push Reinhardt to pg 4(Cook) bring back Jones. Use Moser to play D and fill small minutes for Cook/Goodman/Jones. Use hawkins when Cook and Marshall need a blow/ =Problem solved! odds of this happening 0%. Why? Coach is an appeaser, which works great for recruiting, but not coaching and winning.

  37. im shocked at how bad the coaching is---or non coaching---it seems like there is no plan at all, just chaos. is this another masalino?--except with jimmer.

  38. ONE (1) WORD, "OVERRATED" AT ITS FINEST!!!

  39. And, No. 1 Indiana lost to unranked Illinois tonight. "Overrated! The sky is falling! Blah blah blah! Fire everyone! I'm a self-loathing Las Vegan!"

  40. WTH does Indiana losing have to do with the Rebels?! I love how the homers have to reach out for anything to try and redirect the real issue here.....

    Hold the coaching staff accountable for their losses! That's what they're doing in Indiana and other big time schools! They don't accept losses! We shouldn't either!

  41. It is clear that Dave Rice is not ready to be a head coach. The past two season, the Rebels have lost several games after having big leads or they have lost games to inferrior teams. I can only look at his staff and realize that his assistant coach Heath Shoyer (sp) was responsilbe for taking Wyoming's basketball program to rock bottom. Dave Rice depends too much on Shoyer for advice.

  42. When a team only scores 55 points against Fresno, Fresno ppl! Looking back the only really blow out we had was against Laverne, Laverne ppl! Heck Portland almost beat us, Portland ppl!