UNLV basketball:

Rebels saw warning signs and still couldn’t prevent loss to Fresno State

After scoring a season low in 61-52 loss to the Bulldogs, UNLV drops to 3 seed in Mountain West tournament

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

A UNLV fan rests his chin in his hand in the final minutes of their game against Fresno State Saturday, March 9, 2013 at the Thomas & Mack Center. Fresno State, a 14-point underdog, upset the Runnin’ Rebels 61-52.

UNLV vs. Fresno State: March 9, 2013

UNLV guard Anthony Marshall waits to congratulate Fresno State after their game Saturday, March 9, 2013 at the Thomas & Mack Center. Fresno State, a 14-point underdog, upset UNLV 61-52. Launch slideshow »

Whether there was a specific moment or just an accumulation of warning signs, UNLV coach Dave Rice and seniors Anthony Marshall and Justin Hawkins said they could see this coming as early as Thursday afternoon.

The aforementioned "this" is a 61-52 loss to 14-point underdog Fresno State on Saturday afternoon in front of a stunned Thomas & Mack Center crowd of 17,707. They showed up in white for Senior Day and by the end may as well have waved those shirts in surrender.

“I didn’t feel like we had a sense of how difficult this game today was going to be,” Rice said.

Considering this is the same Fresno State (11-18, 5-11) team that previously handed the Rebels (23-8, 10-6) arguably their most humiliating loss of the season, that mentality says a lot about the team.

Rice didn't offer any specifics that triggered his concerns. He was a little more vocal in practice at the end of the week but overall the sessions ran mostly as usual. Still, something he saw either on the court or in the locker room troubled Rice and was clear to at least two of the players.

“Our immaturity showed up again, as it has all season long,” he said.

What showed up Saturday, especially in the second half, was a version of the messy game UNLV often plays on the road. Only this one was at home.

After starting the game 1-for-13 shooting from the field, Fresno State hit 10 of its next 12 shots and with less than nine minutes left in the first half took a lead it wouldn’t relinquish the rest of the way. The Bulldogs’ Kevin Foster hit that go-ahead shot, one of six straight 3-pointers he made coming off the bench in the first half. Foster finished with 25 points and 10 rebounds while Cimarron grad Kevin Olekaibe had 13 points and eight assists to help complete the series sweep.

UNLV’s previous season-low point total was in the 64-55 loss in Fresno. Saturday topped it.

Fresno State’s victory locks up the 7 seed in the Mountain West tournament, which is important because it avoids the play-in game Tuesday night. For the Rebels, the loss -- combined with Colorado State’s victory against UNR -- drops them into the 3 seed, the same place they’ve been for the past three seasons.

That means a matchup against Air Force, who was defeating first-place New Mexico at home while UNLV was losing. The Rebels will play Wednesday at noon on CBS Sports Network.

The silver lining is there are games still to be played but the optimism ran into a brick wall along with UNLV’s five-game winning streak. The potential problems were obvious to everyone with the power to correct them yet no one was able to accomplish that.

“I didn’t want to speak up on it too much because I didn’t want to get anyone discouraged on the team; make them think I’m negative,” Hawkins said.

Yet in the second half as UNLV was botching and fumbling away its comeback hopes Hawkins had no problem getting in Katin Reinhardt’s face after the freshman committed a turnover on a fast break that led to free throws at the other end. Mike Moser would get in Reinhardt’s face later in the game about a defensive miscommunication that led to more free throws.

Click to enlarge photo

UNLV guard Justin Hawkins gets in teammate Katin Reinhardt's face after Reinhardt's turnover against Fresno State during their game Saturday, March 9, 2013 at the Thomas & Mack Center. Fresno State upset UNLV 61-52.

That’s a lot of talking during or after the fact that could have been useful beforehand, when the seniors sensed something was amiss. And maybe the target isn’t right, either.

Take away Reinhardt’s 1-for-8 shooting night and it’s not like everything’s solved. The team, not one player, shot terribly in the second half and didn’t play consistent defense.

The Rebels were 1-for-12 on 3-point attempts in the second half. Reinhardt hit it with 9:52 remaining and it would turn out to be the last field goal the team would make.

For nearly 10 minutes at the end of a Senior Day game in the Mack against one of the bottom three teams in league, UNLV didn’t make a shot.

“We didn’t move the ball early so we got out of sync and then panicked and tried to hit home-run plays,” Rice said.

The ball was “sticky,” Marshall said, with each play more likely to end in a forced or selfish shot than one that would best help the team. Marshall, who finished with 11 points, seven rebounds and seven assists to four turnovers, took some blame for that. There’s plenty to go around, because none of the main contributors could walk away satisfied with his performance.

Moser had nine rebounds and 11 points but he needed 13 shots to get there, including hitting 1-of-6 from deep. Anthony Bennett was still struggling with pain in his left shoulder, Rice said, and finished with five points and two rebounds in 17 minutes.

Even Bryce Dejean-Jones, who had been making major strides in the past couple of weeks, was just so-so with six points on 3-for-9 shooting and eight rebounds.

From the coaching staff down, this performance wasn’t even close to good enough for a team trying to get better, not worse, in March. They know it.

“If we kept thinking we’re too good to play basketball it would come back and bite us in the butt,” Hawkins said.

It did. Hard. Now the Rebels have four days to figure out how to play together consistently in a way that still escapes them after four months.

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

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  1. Ya know, Rice is a lot smarter ,,,,, when he just shuts up and says nothing. If he knew anything about coaching this loss would have never happened. With out a doubt a boy trying to do a mans job.

  2. This was my first game this season at the Thomas and Mack. I saw an undisciplined team with no fire or drive who looked like they were sleepwalking through the game. Forced shots and careless passes, getting outhustled all game long, surrendering second- and third-chance buckets, repeatedly missing key free throws, defensive lapses under the basket...

    It will almost be a blessing if this team doesn't make the NCAA Tournament, because if they go it will be for one game. I wish the news were better, but it isn't.

  3. This is just what the Rebels are. Very inconsistent and unreliable. I certainly did not expect them to lose to Fresno at home, however it is not the most shocking thing I can imagine. This team may have good defensive numbers but stats are indeed misleading at times. As much as Coach Rice has athletes and says he wants to run, he consistently coaches his team not to pressure and force teams into a more frenetic tempo. When you allow inferior teams to run their stuff and get comfortable this is what you sometimes get. I have no idea how they will play against Air Force on Wed. Would not surprise me if they come out and play well. Also would not surprise me if they lay another egg and limp into the tourney as an 8-9 seed. Just another up and down year that seems to be the norm for Coach Rice. Experienced team, inexperienced team, it just does not seem to matter.

  4. I agree with Gumby2323. Pretty much what I was saying earlier. Here is my post from the last article:

    Pretty much the same Rebel team we've become accustomed to every season for about the last 5 seasons. About a 24-26 win team with 8-10 losses, 2nd or 3rd place in the MWC, usually a MWC tournament semi finals appearance, a 7-8 seed in the NCAA tournament, and one and done in the NCAA tournament. The Rebels always start the season out well and sputter in conference play. They are ranked for a few weeks out of the season but never an entire season. The best player from the season before usually always comes back and has a disappointing last season (Wink, Willis, Stanback, and now Moser). If you go back and compare this team to teams from the last 5 years they really are no better despite the talent level. The last 5 Rebel teams back to 2008 averages around 72-73 ppg, roughly 37 rpg, 16 apg, 45% shooting, and 33% 3pt shooting. To be specific this team according to ESPN stats (before this debacle of a game) UNLV was averaging 73 ppg, 40 rpg, 17 apg, 44% FG, 33% 3PFG. i just feel like the Rebels have been stuck in this pattern and can't seem to improve on it. Don't get me wrong, 24-26 wins and trips to the NCAA tournament aren't a bad thing but I'm just ready to see the Rebels take the next step. Teams are supposed to improve from season to season where as i just feel this program can't get over the hump despite bringing Rice in with his so called "Let's Run" system and his recruiting abilities. I know it could be worst but I feel as if I'm watching the movie Groundhog Day when it comes to UNLV basketball lately.

  5. Pretty Simple- NO CHARACTER. This team is the Tin man of Oz- no heart. Flat out embarrassing. And I don't want to hear all the rah rah guys making excuses.

  6. If Rice saw warning signs, why didn't he do something about it...?! What a joke!

  7. Senior night lineup clearly affected rhythm ...the rebels hd several turnovers in one early span....that affected their rhythm for the whole game. That and mosers perimeter defense is no good.

  8. The Rebs need to learn situational basketball. You want the right player taking each shot in each situation. Rebels are better tha that.........

  9. This team has been mediocre all season. They are hard to motivate. They are poorly coached and have mostly head cases on the team, which is a normal thing for UNLV it seems. UNLV always seems to get the low IQ players and it shows with this team more than ever. Get over it Rebel Fans...a smart team will beat a not-so-smart team everytime and I think UNLV is last in line in the cerebral department.

  10. This one is on Rice, and he says he saw it coming that is unbeleviable, and he couldnt fix it that show he does not have a clue and is not a head coach at this level.Last night you could see every time we got the ball Marshal would look to the bench and wait for something and waste 10 seconds and then they would all stand around, we need to find a coach and find one soon or the our program will go back ten years AGAIN............

  11. @fedup2here (Kenny Rogers) - I love how you think you know everything about coaching. Why don't you become a head coach?

  12. Phillips-
    No one is going to take away your UNLV shirt if you question Rice. What are you...Dave's Defender? Relax already. Because you expect more of a coach/team and are vocal about it does not make you a bad fan.
    Rice needs to take ownage here. Coach Rice and Coach Schroyer were in NorCal on Thursday to watch Kendall Smith's (UNLV commit) practice (not even a game). Perhaps they should have been at practice Thursday preparing for Fresno State. Nothing tells a player more that a coach isn't worried about the next opponent than the coach not being with the team at practice. Our perimeter defense has been atrocious. UNLV let Boise shoot 50% from 3 when they are averaging 39% this year. They let Fresno shoot 47% when they are averaing 34% this year. Fresno tied UNLV last night for 41 rebounds. They are ranked 283rd this year and UNLV is ranked 5th in rebounding. Boise outrebounded UNLV 30-29. Boise is ranked 211th in rebounding.
    UNLV really needs to improve rebounding and defense. Offense comes and goes. It wasn't there last night. It didn't help either that all the players started launching 3's. Why isn't Rice sitting a kid down if he's not running a set. If a set play is even called? Defense and rebounding have a lot to do with effort, desire, and will. UNLV lacks that. It is a reflection of their coaching.
    Until that is fixed UNLV will continue to be good, but never great.

  13. @blueandgold - You're not different than Kenny. You act like you have all the answers. You state things like they're fact. Why aren't you coaching?

  14. They wouldn't like me to coach , I'm too strict and they couln't handle it because rice has already spoiled them. I have coached PHILLIPS and my teams were undefeated , mind you it was city league 18 to 25 yr olds but none the less the coach is what reinforces the team and his discipline shows in team performance,the Rebels show no discipline in thier performance.

  15. phillips-
    Last time I checked, statistics were fact. So if you want to argue with statistics then go ahead.
    Any team that improves defense and rebounding will be better for it. You don't have to be a coach to know that.
    But hey...you can have whatever expectations you want for UNLV. If you're content with yesterday's performance then be content. Don't get offended that there are those of us who expect more and will say it.

  16. @fedup2here (Kenny Rogers) - You crack me up. You think you know everything that's wrong with the team. You think you know what's going on behind closed doors. You're a joke.

  17. @blueandgold - When did I say that statistics weren't fact?

  18. It's a sad day when our team doesn't show any heart or pride on Senior Day at home....humiliating.

  19. It's pretty much evident that the majority of die hard Rebel fans are fed up with this mediocre play, me included. After 2 years it lies squarely on the head coach, period. As much as I despise our rivals, what do you think Steve Alford would have done with this talent? I'm not saying we make a move for him but when you watch their team over a season compared to ours, it's obvious we have inferior coaching. If the MWC tourney was in the Pit, do you think we would have cut down the nets on their home court like they did to us last year? No chance.

  20. Not sure how this qualifies as a surprise. Fresno State is a better team. Kevin Foster was the best player on the floor (he delivered in crunch time while the Lottery Ticket was on the bench). They are a better coached team. They play more cohesively.

    The Rebels aren't yet good enough to assume wins against anyone. The fact that they're attempting to say this loss was due to lack of prep, or attitude or whatever, reveals a detachment from reality. That's troubling.

    Next season will be better after some additions and additions by subtraction.

  21. @Audentes - To say that Fresno State is a better team is absurd. You can't judge a team on one or two games. The Rebels played 31 games in the regular season and won 23 of them.

  22. @fedup2here: sincerely Kenny, I'm impressed that your 18 to 25 years old city league teams were undefeated. Kudos sir! What city was that?

  23. "I didn't feel like we had a sense of how difficult this game today was going to be," Rice said.

    If this is indeed the case, Rice doesn't deserve a head coaching job. Anywhere.

  24. @wtk2 - Logic like that leads to no progress. You probably think they should be a Final Four team just because they have the most talent in the Mountain West.

    Also, people were complaining when UNLV beat New Mexico at home. Give me a break.