Khem Birch, Justin Hawkins

Inability to run playing a role in UNLV’s slow start to conference play

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Halfway through the Mountain West race, Dave Rice’s UNLV Runnin’ Rebels (17-6, 4-4) find themselves three games behind first place New Mexico with the Lobos visiting Las Vegas on Saturday night.

The question that so many have in regards to a team that was thought to be capable of accomplishing some special things this season: what’s the problem?

In conference play there have been two major problems for UNLV: they’re struggling to get out in transition, which ultimately affects their perimeter accuracy, and they aren’t too good when it comes to forcing turnovers either.

UNLV currently ranks sixth in the Mountain West in three-point percentage, as they’re connecting on just 30.4% of their shots from beyond the arc. In their 64-55 loss at Fresno State on Thursday night UNLV shot 4-of-21 from distance, and even in their wins the Rebels have struggled to hit the shot at a decent clip outside of a 7-of-15 performance in their 62-50 win over Wyoming on January 24.

UNLV has capable shooters, be it a veteran like Mike Moser or freshman guard Katin Reinhardt , but they simply aren’t finding quality looks from deep on a consistent basis. UNLV hasn’t been able to lure opponents into a faster game as noted by Taylor Bern of the Las Vegas Sun, forcing Anthony Marshall and company to find looks in the half court. And that isn’t where the Rebels are at their best.

The Rebels work on a lot of transition offense in practices. Problem is, they can’t get out and run in conference play. They scored four fast-break points against Fresno and none against Boise. Opponents send guys back to stop those exact plays, conceding a few rebounds for the opportunity to force UNLV to beat them with half-court sets.

Those are the type of plays the Rebels need to be running over and over, because even if you agree with coach Dave Rice that the Rebels couldn’t make open shots against the Bulldogs, and I kind of do, this isn’t a new problem.

The bigger problem for UNLV is on the defensive end, where they’re forcing just 10.1 turnovers per game in league play. The end result is a turnover margin of minus-3.75, by far the worst number in the Mountain West.

In a sense UNLV faces a dilemma similar to that of Illinois, although the Runnin’ Rebels have been far better defensively when it comes to the percentages. If UNLV can force more turnovers they’ll find better scoring opportunities on the offensive end.

The problem is that while UNLV knows they need to do this so do their opponents. And through eight games UNLV hasn’t exactly shown themselves capable of making the needed adjustments.

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej

Henry Ellenson wins Marquette Madness dunk contest

Steve Wojciechowski
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Marquette freshman forward Henry Ellenson won the Marquette Madness slam dunk contest on Friday night with a between the legs dunk.

The 6-foot-10 Ellenson, the top recruit in Steve Wojciechowski’s freshmen class, defeated sophomore Sandy Cohen, fellow freshman Sacar Anim and Wally Ellenson, his older brother.

Ellenson joins the Golden Eagles as the No. 11 overall recruit in the Class of 2015.

Bill Self signs $10,000 check for KU student


Late Night in the Phog is typically a night to remember for Kansas fans. For Kansas student Jerrod Martin Castro, Friday night’s event is one he won’t forget.

Castro, a sophomore, was selected as a contestant for a $10,000 giveaway. The only thing standing in the way of a big payday was a half-court shot. Brennan Bechard, the Kansas director of basketball operations, attempted the long-distance shot and hit nothing but net.

Kansas head coach Bill Self signed a $10,000 check on the spot.