UNLV was lulled to sleep by a patient, disciplined Wisconsin team early in Saturday afternoon’s battle in Madison, and by the time they woke up, the hole was simply too deep.
Behind a career-high 25 points from sophomore reserve guard Ben Brust, the 14th-ranked Badgers (8-2) fought off the Rebels’ (9-2) best shot late in the game and made UNLV’s long stint away from the Thomas & Mack Center feel that much longer.
Here were Saturday’s Seven Takeaways …
1) First off, Mike Moser’s right wrist is clearly a big issue
To recap the week that was for Moser, he first suffered the sprained right wrist mid-way through Tuesday’s practice, then later returned with it wrapped up, then stayed afterwards to practice altering his shot some to work around the ailment.
On Wednesday night, he scored only six points and opted to facilitate on the offensive end rather than try to score, with the injury clearly disrupting his shot.
He said after that game that it felt a little bit better, but clearly he’s going to have to fight through it some, because on Saturday, he hardly looked like himself. In 27 minutes of run, he grabbed 11 rebounds, but scored only four points on seven shot attempts and committed four turnovers. The most visible difference was in his presence on that end of the floor. Moser, who has been the team’s heart and soul to this point in the season, just didn’t look like he had his normal confident swagger on the floor.
He deserves credit for fighting through the pain, and for a guy who has already established himself as a leader on a veteran roster, nothing less would be expected. But while he’s on the mend, UNLV might have to alter some things around him to make up for it.
2) What went wrong early?
Wisconsin simply did a better job of lulling UNLV to sleep compared to its first two slow-it-down opponents, USC and Cal Poly.
Not only did the Badgers do a great job of controlling the ball and milking the shot clock down before pulling the trigger on shots, but they also gave themselves a handful of frustrating second-chance opportunities by out-working UNLV on the glass.
The Badgers rarely lose on their home floor, but the crowd wasn’t much of a factor. In fact, the 17,123 at the Kohl Center were eerily quiet. Combined with the slowed down pace of play and the early tip-off, UNLV simply looked like it had trouble generating energy in the early minutes.
Combined with poor shooting early on, UNLV found out first-hand why it’s so tough to play from behind against Wisconsin.
3) A crazy statistical anomaly
Wisconsin star senior point guard Jordan Taylor became the Badger’s starting floor general mid-way through his sophomore year. Since then, Saturday marked only the second time that he was held without a field goal.
The team’s leading scorer on the season went 0-for-10 and 0-for-6 from long range, scoring four points (all on free throws) in 39 minutes. It was also only the ninth time since he became a starter that he turned the ball over at least three times in a game.
So where did Wisconsin make up for the absent production? Sophomore reserve guard Ben Brust took care of that, scoring a career-high 25 points and hitting all seven of his 3-point attempts.
It was a twisted knife for UNLV, who last Sunday saw Wichita State’s Joe Ragland mark a career-best while hitting eight of nine 3-point tries.
Call it bad luck, but UNLV was once again stung by an unlikely hero.
4) With Moser ailing, a second scoring option will have to emerge
UNLV’s one bright spot on the offensive end was senior forward Chace Stanback, who scored a team-high 16 points on 5-of-9 shooting.
Not only was his shot pure, but he showed great accuracy both off of the bounce and with hands in his face on almost every look.
Stanback has been consistently a strong scorer for UNLV to this point in the season, but if Moser’s offensive abilities will be limited for a bit, the Rebels will need a consistent scorer to emerge alongside him.
Senior guard Oscar Bellfield has also been a strong scoring option this season, and simply had an off day on Saturday, going 3-of-12 from the floor in 34 minutes.
One struggling weapon who needs to find a groove soon is junior guard Anthony Marshall. In 27 minutes, he was just 1-of-4 from the floor and never really looked comfortable in what was one of the worst offensive outings of his career.
5) Where was Quintrell Thomas?
Quintrell Thomas did not play for the first time this season, as his struggles within the framework of Dave Rice’s offensive system have led to an increasingly diminished role.
He has always been one of the team’s more aggressive rebounders, but could the staff simply not afford to have him on the floor on Saturday in a game where possessions needed to be valued more than ever? He’s struggled with entry passes this season, as his hands have been inconsistent.
6) Trouble ‘running’
As was the case in its first loss of the season, UNLV had trouble creating offense from its defense.
Across from a season-low eight assists, the Rebels turned the ball over 15 times, turning into 19 Wisconsin points.
Meanwhile, UNLV only produced five fast-break points.
7) What’s next?
It may sound like a bit of an excuse, but the mental grind of UNLV’s non-conference schedule has taken its toll on the team in the last week or so. Junior guard Justin Hawkins said after Wednesday’s victory over Cal State San Marcos that it was even more taxing both mentally and physically than they had anticipated.
In terms of competition, plenty of challenges lie ahead before Mountain West Conference play starts next month.
But at least the Rebels get to stay home a bit.
They’ll play their first game at the Thomas & Mack Center since Nov. 22 on Wednesday night against UTEP. After that comes next Saturday’s game against Illinois at the United Center in Chicago.
UNLV is hurting right now in terms of depth, and they’ll get a boost next Saturday when Marquette transfer Reggie Smith suits up as a Rebel for the first time. After that, they don’t play another road game for two weeks.
Saturday was by no means a bad loss for the Rebels, and now their hope is that getting a dose of normalcy in the schedule will help turn things around on the floor.