Only a bargain at half the price

Rene Rougeau says there is a need for more passion. Lon Kruger says there is a need for better shooting, better execution, better talking defensively. Wink Adams says there is a need for him to hoist a jumper and not feel as though the basket is covered with a lid.

This is the 10-game assessment of a UNLV basketball team that is 8-2 and neither looks nor plays like it.

Welcome to the reality of grand expectations. They can be murder to meet.

The Rebels on Sunday continued a theme of beating people they should this season, although you wouldn’t fault those who paid a ridiculous ticket price to depart somewhat bitter after UNLV’s 70-61 victory against Western Michigan at the Orleans Arena.

It’s not the best time of the year for UNLV to entice potential opponents to travel here. This is when the Rebels are caught in a stretch of final exams and being tossed from the Thomas & Mack Center by the National Finals Rodeo. It could take one or 10 or more calls to land someone.

Last season, UNLV beat a bad Fresno State team at The Orleans and charged a laughable $35 a seat where an announced crowd of 4,924 was an absurd estimation. This season, the athletic department was at least smart enough to include the game within many of its season-ticket packages, but still had the nerve to charge $32 to those without such standing or nonstudents in attendance.

They announced a crowd of 6,701. There might have been 5,000 in the place. I’m uncertain how many paid the $32 as a single-game venture, but one would be too many.

This hardly fell under the guise of premium pricing for a highly regarded opponent. Western Michigan might have been picked to win its side of the Mid-American Conference, but if such prophecy holds true, the MAC is in terrible shape.

The Broncos (2-8) are brutal, and yet still outshot and outrebounded the Rebels, who right now aren’t a shadow of the defensive-minded groups that succeeded under Kruger the past few years.

UNLV officials said they paid a flat fee of $25,000 to rent the arena, but those setting ticket prices have never seemed to grasp the concept of making up in volume what you might lose in cost.

If this is the level of opponent UNLV can expect to continue offering at The Orleans for a mid-December game, pricing should never climb above $20 a seat. But that would make too much sense, so don’t turn blue holding your breath.

You might, however, turn gray waiting for the Rebels to play a complete game.

“Like so many games, we want to learn from it and make progress and get better,” Kruger said. “Clearly, we keep showing that’s what we need to do. We’ve got to do things better. We’ve said that for the first month of the year. If we start doing that, we’ll feel good about our progress.

“We have played like this too frequently.”

This is average. Unsure. Scattered. UNLV today would still be favored to win a Mountain West Conference Tournament in its own building, but it is not the team to beat for a regular-season title.

Brigham Young has looked far better in that the unbeaten Cougars are not only beating inferior teams against a soft schedule to this point, but also pounding them. San Diego State and Utah have had moments that suggest they are every bit as capable of winning the league as UNLV.

That could change quickly, of course. It’s all up to Adams. He’s the one who will decide how good the Rebels are.

Unfair pressure? Not at all. It comes with being the preseason Player of the Year in your conference, with having started 112 career games and 102 straight, with having led your team in scoring the previous year.

Adams isn’t UNLV’s best all-around player through 10 games. Rougeau is.

Adams is, however, the most important one. The senior can’t continue the shooting woes that have seen him hit only 1 of 26 3-pointers in the past six games and miss five straight free throws during one stretch Sunday.

They won’t beat anyone really good if he can’t make shots. They can handle teams they’re supposed to. That’s obvious. But that alone won’t get you playing far into March.

“To be honest,” Rougeau said, “it doesn’t feel like we’re (8-2).”

Doesn’t look much like it, either.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at 383-4618 or egraney@reviewjournal.com.

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