If you want, you can call UNLV’s 102-97 overtime loss to TCU the result of the Rebels playing a trap game on Tuesday night.
You wouldn’t necessarily be wrong.
UNLV beat San Diego State on Saturday afternoon in one of the most thrilling games of the season and, in the process, moving themselves into a three-way, first-place tie in the Mountain West. This coming Saturday, UNLV plays the other team that is tied for first place in the conference, traveling to Albequerque to take on New Mexico. Its easy for a college kid to overlook the game against a team from middle-of-the-pack in the middle of the week. When that game is played on the road, it becomes all the more dangerous.
But here’s the thing: UNLV didn’t overlook TCU. In fact, they handled them just fine for the first 30 minutes of the game. The Rebels were up by as much as 11 points in the first half. They used an 18-5 run to open the second half to take an 18 point lead with just 15 minutes left in the game. With ten minutes left, Mike Moser finished an and-one to put UNLV up 76-61.
And TCU came all the way back, closing out the game on a 24-9 run to tie the game on a layup from Amric Fields and force overtime.
In the extra period, Hank Thorns took over, scoring eight of his 32 points — including a couple of ridiculous threes — as the Horned Frogs were able to pull away from the Runnin’ Rebels.
There is plenty to be concerned about here. For starters, UNLV gave up 102 points to a team that hadn’t scored more than 78 points in regulation league play, with 41 of those points coming in the final 15 minutes of the game. The loss also puts them in a position where they no longer can have control over their fortunes in the Mountain West race, as they now sit a game behind both SDSU and New Mexico in the loss column.
My biggest concern, however, is that UNLV’s next game is against New Mexico in The Pit, one of the best home courts in the country. UNLV has had some serious road issues this season. Not only have they lost to TCU, but they lost at Wyoming and SDSU in league play after getting torched at Wichita State and losing at Wisconsin. Their two road wins in league play both came in overtime against Air Force and Boise State, who have a combined two wins in conference.
I know the NCAA Tournament is played on a neutral court and the Mountain West Tournament is played in Vegas (which seems to be a particularly large advantage for the Rebs this year), but these road issues worry me. Teams that can win on the road tend to be the better, more tough-minded teams. The thinking goes that they are the teams that can handle adversity and pressure better.
I’m sure I’m not the only one curious to see whether or not UNLV can buck the trend this weekend.