For the second time in five days, UNLV hung with a tough road opponent for most of the game, only to falter on defense down the stretch. This time, it was Kansas dropping 25 points on the Rebels in the final 11 minutes to pull away, 76-61, leaving UNLV with nothing but a moral victory.
For the first 30 minutes on Sunday, it looked like the Rebels were up to the task. UNLV played Kansas dead even, and even appeared to be on the verge of pulling a huge upset on the road, with Cody Doolin and Chris Wood leading the way. But after tying the game at 51-51 with 11:25 left, the defense vanished. Kansas knocked down big 3-pointers, got out into the open court, and scored off offensive rebounds to bury the Rebels late.
After shooting 33.3 percent in the first half, Kansas hit at a 58.1-percent clip in the second half. Sophomore guards Frank Mason and Wayne Selden were particular problems for the UNLV defense, as Mason got the rim repeatedly en route to a game-high 18 points, while Selden connected on 4-of-8 3-pointers and totaled 16 points.
Conversely, UNLV’s offensive attack became less effective as the game went on. The Rebels finished just 7-of-23 from 3-point range (30.4 percent) and they committed 12 turnovers on the game, compared to just 11 assists. Wood and Doolin scored 12 points apiece, and Rashad Vaughn chipped in 10, but after responding to every Kansas run through the first 30 minutes, the Rebels couldn’t get a bucket when they needed it most.
Too many possessions
When I laid out the blueprint for a UNLV win in my game preview, one of the biggest factors was keeping possessions even. I thought the Rebels matched up nicely with Kansas and would have a good chance to win if they limited turnovers and won the defensive rebounding battle. That didn’t happen on Sunday, as Kansas forced 12 turnovers and pounded UNLV on the glass to the tune of 17 offensive rebounds.
That was the story of the game, as Kansas racked up 20 points off turnovers and seven points off offensive rebounds. That means 35.5 percent of their total points came from “extra” possessions. Obviously that’s too much. The Rebels needed to play relatively mistake-free basketball, and they didn’t do it.
UNLV played tremendous defense in the first half. Goodluck Okonoboh was a monster inside, as he blocked five shots and did a good job of sealing off the paint. And aside from a few Selden 3-pointers (which the Rebels appeared to be willing to concede), they did a good job closing down the arc, as Kansas made just 3-of-11 from long range. But the second half was a different story, as the Jayhawks were able to get into transition more. They did a good job of beating UNLV down the court and attacking the rim before the Rebels’ big men could station themselves under the rim, and without Okonoboh or Wood to protect the basket, the points came easy.
Mason had a field day, streaking to the basket in the open court and scoring 11 points on 5-of-9 shooting in the second half. Perry Ellis had success making jumpers as the screen man in pick-and-pop situations, going 4-of-6 after the break, and freshman Kelly Oubre also found some openings, hitting both of his 3-point attempts in the second half.
From the point when the game was tied 51-51 with 11 minutes to play, UNLV allowed Kansas to score on 12 of its final 18 possessions. That’s problematic, as UNLV did the same thing at Wyoming, allowing the Cowboys to score on their final seven possessions. For all the good things we saw from UNLV in the first half, it won’t matter until the young Rebels learn how to put it together for 40 minutes on the road. As we saw against Wyoming and now Kansas, anything less than that isn’t going to work.
Rebels play with moxie
In the moral victory category, UNLV responded well to playing in one of the most challenging environments in all of college sports. On the road at historic Allen Fieldhouse, they withstood an early Kansas surge that saw the Jayhawks jump out to a 14-3 lead just minutes into the game, and they continued to answer every Kansas run right up until the final sequence.
Chris Wood didn’t quite dominate like he has over the past two weeks, as he posted 12 points, eight rebound and two blocks in 37 minutes, but he was effective. And Cody Doolin had his best offensive games since the Portland contest, with 12 points (5-of-6 FGs), seven assists and just one turnover. In terms of on-court leadership, it starts with those two for UNLV, and they came to play.
The Rebels finish non-conference play with a 9-4 record, and I think that’s probably about right. They got one good win over Temple, one huge win over Arizona, and put up a respectable fight at Kansas. Dave Rice wanted to test his team with a tough schedule, hoping they would come out the other side tougher for it, and I think that’s exactly what has happened.
Can UNLV sustain this level of play throughout the Mountain West season and punch a ticket to the NCAA tournament? After watching how quickly this group of players has come together, I think that’s more than reasonable.
Five Keys to Beating Kansas
Podcast: Kansas Preview, Chris Wood, Point Guard Play
UNLV Now No. 53 in RPI
Breaking Down Larry Nance’s 29-Point Performance
Shooting Star: An Oral History of Dantley Walker
Follow Mike Grimala (@MikeGrimala) on Twitter for 24/7 Rebels updates.