SAN JOSE, Calif.
I suppose there is a silver lining for UNLV basketball today, hidden somewhere in the mess of yet another opening-game loss in the NCAA Tournament.
Imagine if the Rebels had beaten California on Thursday at HP Pavilion and advanced to meet Syracuse in the next round.
I’m not sure UNLV could have scored 10 points against the zone of the Orange.
I’m not talking 10 in a half.
Ten ... total.
Thank goodness college basketball won’t be subjected to that ratings killer.
Dave Rice always has said the correct things about understanding the expectations attached to the program he coaches, about accepting the fact that when his team underachieves at the biggest moments, when it plays poorly under the brightest of lights, he and the Rebels deserve all the criticism pointed their way.
Good. They can begin deflecting it now.
I’m sure the UNLV marketing department will miss this one: Run As One And Done.
Cal beat UNLV 64-61 in an East Region game, and had it not stumbled over itself time and again in the final minutes, it would have won going away. The Golden Bears deserved every bit of their victory, having exposed UNLV weaknesses from the head coach to each player who participated.
People usually make too big a deal about coaching. Guys get too much credit for wins and too much blame for losses.
Until a game like this rolls around.
This was a coaching clinic, and Mike Montgomery ran it, his team not nearly as talented as the UNLV side it beat. But in crafting a defensive game plan that refused Rebels freshman Anthony Bennett a major role in the outcome and daring UNLV to score against zone, Montgomery made the opposing staff appear nowhere near the level of him and those at his side.
Cal was a No. 12 seed, but Montgomery came off as a 1.
“We worked on zone (offense) all week long,” Rice said.
What, when everyone was asleep?
“I think the zone bothered them,” Montgomery said.
Yeah, and the Oregon cheerleaders are popular.
UNLV shot 19 of 59, including 6 of 20 on 3-pointers. It went nearly 12 second-half minutes without a basket, missing 16 straight shots during the stretch.
Said one UNLV player: “We just kept running one play all day ...”
This just in: It didn’t work. The same play over and over and over again. Miss after miss after miss. It was comical.
The Rebels were so confused, so unprepared to attack the zone, they had no idea when Cal mixed in some man defense. They still played as if facing zone.
It didn’t stop at that end. The Rebels were nearly as inept defensively over the final 20 minutes. They didn’t force Cal’s best player, Allen Crabbe (19 points), the correct way off screens (left), didn’t bump him when he entered the lane off a curl (a must), didn’t recover quickly enough to stop a walk-on named Robert Thurman from shooting 6 of 6, all being dunks (inexcusable).
Bryce Dejean-Jones wasn’t nearly good enough locking and trailing Crabbe around those screens, and Bennett just sort of stood around when Crabbe curled. Defensive discipline doesn’t start in March. Bennett spent his only collegiate season bewildered at that end. He either lacked the desire to improve or wasn’t taught well enough.
Cal outscored UNLV 16-3 over the beginning of each half before Rice had to call a timeout. That’s coaching. That’s preparation to begin a game and adjusting at halftime of one.
UNLV spent the season getting off to slow starts, a bad habit that gets you sent home this time of year.
“Certainly, today was not successful,” Rice said. “We’re very, very disappointed about that. Bitterly disappointed. But we won 51 games over the last two years, recruiting has gone well, and we’re excited about the future of the program.”
Here is the immediate future: UNLV loses seniors Anthony Marshall, Justin Hawkins and Quintrell Thomas. It will lose Bennett to the NBA Draft, and junior Mike Moser also will likely depart early. Carlos Lopez-Sosa might opt against playing a final season.
There will be new faces, new transfers, a guard in Katin Reinhardt who has some strengths but also a few glaring weaknesses and who never was harnessed enough by coaches in terms of shot selection this season; a guard in Dejean-Jones who, while extremely skilled, also lacks discipline at critical times.
Here is the present: UNLV on Thursday joined Clemson and Brigham Young as the only teams in tournament history to lose four straight round of 64 games as a higher seed. Read that part again. One of only three.
The silver lining: Syracuse beat Montana 81-34.
The Grizzlies had 15 points at halftime.
Trust me. You didn’t want to see UNLV against the Orange.
The thought is frightening enough.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at email@example.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.