UNLV hoping summer work results in better finishes next season

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In a season that fell far short of expectations, UNLV went 18-15 and finished 8-10 in Mountain West play despite having one the the conference’s most talented rotations. There are a number of reasons for the lack of success, one of which being the team’s struggles in close games.

Of UNLV’s 15 losses nine were by six points or less, and another close loss was their nine-point overtime defeat at eventual regular season co-champion Boise State in mid-January. With Rashad Vaughn and Christian Wood among those who have moved on, the Runnin’ Rebels are working on the court and in the weight room this summer to ensure that there’s better chemistry and the team is better equipped to close out tight games.

In a story by Ed Graney of the Las Vegas Review-Journal that focused on the impact that USA Basketball calling Las Vegas home for part of the summer has on the UNLV program, head coach Dave Rice touched on the team’s efforts to turn things around in 2015-16.

Strength and conditioning at the college level is a year-round endeavor now.

It’s part of one’s lifestyle in the NBA.

“We have to get physically and mentally tougher,” Rice said. “We were in a lot of games last year that we just didn’t finish. We have to get over the top in those. It’s important for our guys to walk in here and see how big NBA players are. They are obviously extremely talented and athletic, but they’re also physically strong. If you’re going to have an opportunity to play at that level, you better be strong.”

Once again UNLV won’t lack for individual talent, with elite forwards Stephen Zimmerman and Derrick Jones leading the incoming freshmen and transfers such as Jerome Seagears (who sat out last season) and Ike Nwamu available as well. Add in the returnees, including sophomores Patrick McCaw and Goodluck Okonoboh, and the Runnin’ Rebels have the individual pieces needed to take a step forward.

But we’ve said that before. The key question: do they have the collective mindset (and toughness) needed to do so? Rice is hopeful that his team getting to observe some of the best players in the sport will rub off on them, thus sparking a change for the better.