UNLV’s pressure defense didn’t generate a ton of turnovers against Cal Poly on Friday, but the Rebels did have success in terms of using the press to speed up the pace of the game. And for Dave Rice, that appears to be half the battle.
Much like in last week’s exhibition contest against Whittier, the Rebels didn’t unleash an ultra-aggressive fullcourt press, but rather rolled out a simple trapping scheme seemingly designed to get the opponent moving quicker than they wanted to.
UNLV played 75 defensive possessions on Friday, and 40 of them began with Cal Poly inbounding the ball in the backcourt after a dead-ball stoppage. On 24 of those 40 possessions, the Rebels employed a fullcourt press, mostly consisting of the “madman” defender contesting the inbound pass and a wing defender hounding the Cal Poly ball-handler to the halfcourt line.
Here are the numbers (with the caveat that I charted these plays live during the game, so assume some margin for error):
UNLV press vs. Cal Poly
Dead balls: 40
Turnovers forced: 4
As you can see, UNLV only trapped in the backcourt on 10 possessions, which is a low total for a team trying to force live-ball turnovers. But although Cal Poly was usually able to break the press with relative ease, it often resulted in quick shots, which increased the pace and played into the hands of the deeper team—UNLV. For the game, UNLV’s average possession lasted 15 seconds, while Cal Poly’s lasted 17 seconds.
When the Rebels did go after the ball in the backcourt, they actually had a fair amount of success. They trapped 10 times and forced six “scrambles,” which is a term I’m using to quantify the times Cal Poly was stymied by the press and had to go outside of its normal routine and scramble a bit in order to escape the pressure. The Rebels also forced four turnovers directly via the press, and with the usual small sample size caveat in full effect, a 40 percent turnover rate on backcourt traps has to make Rice happy.
Once again, Derrick Jones and Dwayne Morgan were the standout defenders, with Jones responsible for forcing two of the four turnovers caused by the press. For the game, Cal Poly committed 14 turnovers.
So while the Rebels haven’t done anything tremendously exotic with their press so far this season, we’ll have to wait and see how it evolves as the players and coaches grow more comfortable playing that style on a full-time basis.