UNLV’s undefeated bubble was going to burst at some point, and it doing so on Sunday at Wichita State isn’t entirely shocking to anyone.
But it was more about how the Rebels suffered their first loss of the season that was odd.
Yes, Wichita State (5-2) caught fire from 3-point range in an 89-70 victory over Dave Rice’s club, and the Shockers also came in with an on-point game plan. But the Rebels (8-1) failed to hold up their end of the bargain, too, in a couple of areas.
Here, now, are Sunday’s Seven Takeaways …
1) Deny, deny … deny?
Wichita State’s 12-of-23 performance from 3-point range was reminiscent of the way UNLV nailed long ball after long ball against North Carolina in last Saturday’s upset win. But on the other end of the floor, the Rebels couldn’t do to the Shockers what they did to the Tar Heels on the perimeter.
The Shockers were able to set up all of those wide open 3-point looks with great ball movement around the arc, which is something UNLV hasn’t allowed much of to opponents this year while pressuring the ball so well.
UNLV came into Sunday forcing its first eight opponents into an average of 16.1 turnovers per game, but Wichita State only coughed up possession six times. In turn, Wichita State had 20 assists on 32 converted field goal attempts.
That also kept UNLV from setting up any transition opportunities, which has been the regular byproduct of its pressure defense. The Rebels only scored two fast break points in the game.
2) Meanwhile, on the other side …
… UNLV’s ball movement just wasn’t as crisp as it has been all year. Starting guards Anthony Marshall and Oscar Bellfield never quite looked all that comfortable, and that led to the Rebels’ offense not having much flow for the better part of the afternoon.
Bellfield did have six assists and no turnovers, while Marshall only gave it up three times, but neither seemed to bee completely on their game.
Could part of it have been fatigue? Both came in averaging just a shade over 33 minutes per game — first and second on the team in that department — and they played a combined 92 minutes on Wednesday at UC Santa Barbara.
3) Moser’s first ‘off day’
It was assumed that, at some point, sophomore forward Mike Moser would have a rough night on the floor. In his first eight games, he really hadn’t had one, averaging a team-high 17.5 points and nation-leading 13.3 rebounds per game.
On Sunday, he had 12 points and seven rebounds, but right when UNLV was trying to make one last push mid-way through the second half, he got called for his fourth foul, which all but took him out of the game for good.
Even on an ‘off night,’ Moser’s numbers looked good, but Wichita State was more conscious of where he was when the ball was in the air than any team UNLV has faced all year. They made an added effort to try and keep him off of the glass as much as possible early in the game, and it kept him from setting a tone for the rest of the team.
4) Speaking of rebounding …
Sunday marked the first time in nine games that UNLV was out-rebounded by an opponent, which was something Rice emphasized as a key to this game late in the week.
Wichita State held a 28-26 edge on the glass, with both teams grabbing nine offensive rebounds.
On the offensive glass, Shocker big men Carl Hall and Garrett Stutz just simply out-worked UNLV for the better part of the game. They combined for 30 points, and Wichita State as a team out-scored UNLV in the paint 26-18.
5) Sometimes, it just happens
By ‘it,’ you have to be thinking of Wichita State guard Joe Ragland.
The senior, who came in averaging just 8.7 points per game, simply got hot against UNLV, and there wasn’t a whole lot the Rebels could do about it. Ragland scored a career-high 31 points, and hit a ridiculous eight of his nine 3-point attempts.
Not all of his 3-point looks were wide open, as some of them were converted with a hand in his face. It was simply his day, and he couldn’t miss.
6) Don’t read too much into it
Back in July, when asked to assess his team’s upcoming non-conference schedule, Rice pointed out the Dec. 4 trip to face Wichita State as arguably the toughest spot on a slate that also includes road games against Wisconsin and Illinois.
Koch Arena was clearly rocking, with a raucous crowd of around 10,000, and UNLV didn’t really look comfortable at any point after the opening couple of minutes.
That tough spot became that much tougher considering the back-to-back emotional highs UNLV experienced in the last week, first with the upset of then-No. 1 UNC, then with a thrilling and draining double-overtime win at UCSB on Wednesday. On top of that, it was against arguably the best team in the Missouri Valley — One that returned all five starters from a squad that won the NIT a year ago and badly needed a signature non-conference win to start padding its NCAA tournament résumé.
This had all the makings of being a trap spot, and UNLV simply fell into it. If there’s a positive to spin from that, it’s that this team appears to be much stronger mentally as a unit than in recent years, making it less likely that this will snowball much.
7) So, where do the Rebels go from here?
First off, UNLV needs to try and get as much rest as possible this week.
The Rebels play back at the Orleans Arena on Wednesday night against Cal State San Marcos — a game in which UNLV should be able to re-establish its defense and roll. If it can do that, it will be a good opportunity to get some extended minutes for back-ups such as Kendall Wallace, Quintrell Thomas and Karam Mashour. That should help the starters get some of their energy back.
From that, they need to build into next Saturday’s game against Wisconsin, who suffered losses to two Top-20 teams this week itself, falling at North Carolina on Wednesday, then at home against Marquette on Saturday.
In terms of their play, what UNLV needs to get back going into the two games this week is pretty clear — Better defensive pressure and more dominance on the glass. If the Rebels can regain their grasp in those two departments, they should be able to bounce back just fine.
Numbers of note …
• UNLV was 24-of-51 from the floor and 5-of-20 from 3-point range.
• Chace Stanback led the way with 16 points for the Rebels, though he was just 1-of-4 from deep.
• UNLV did continue its trend of shooting the ball better in the second half than the first. In the first 20 minutes, the Rebels shot 43.5 percent from the floor and were just 1-of-9 from long range. After the break, they shot 50 percent overall and hit 4-of-11 3-point tries.
• UNLV’s bench out-scored Wichita State’s, 18-9, with Justin Hawkins being responsible for 10 of those.
• Rice bemoaned how many second-chance opportunities his team gave UCSB on Wednesday, and the two teams in this one were again close in that department. Wichita State had 13 second chance points, while UNLV had 10.
• Brice Massamba had 11 points in 18 minutes, but only scored two points in the second half after a hot start.