Rebels draw crowd, then put up no fight in blowout loss to UNR

Well, that sort of effort — meaning a complete lack of one over the first half — probably won’t bring many back for a while.

For one night, they returned, buoyed by gifts and the presence of a ranked rival, by the opportunity to see if their basketball team could get the better of the Mountain West’s best program a second time and in the process boost what has been an incredibly inconsistent league season.

The excitement lasted all of 14 minutes.

Reality can be harsh when it hits you in the face.

Which isn’t to suggest UNLV at any point made enough contact with UNR to leave the slightest of marks.

It was over at intermission Wednesday night, a 101-75 victory by the No. 21 ranked Wolf Pack, over enough for many of the announced gathering of 13,997 at Thomas & Mack Center to head home before the final 20 minutes commenced.

On an evening the school drew its second largest crowd of the year in yet another season of scarce ones, the Rebels folded like a Boy Scout packing up his tent.

It was a week of local UNLV proclamations from politicians in order to encourage folks to give the Rebels a chance, although I’m not believing that was Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak in the pictures given he wasn’t holding a shovel.

There was a tailgate for students before the game with a DJ. Free food. Free T-shirts. Free cornhole. And they showed. They filled their respective section and brought their signs and screams. They did their part.

Their team didn’t come close.

So herein lies the challenge: How to make such a gathering a consistent theme once again, where opponent or day or time of tipoff are inconsequential elements to a foremost purpose of supporting the program.

“We’re going to work very hard to earn back the trust of people, and the first way is give them a first-class memory to take from the experience,” UNLV athletic director Desiree Reed-Francois said. “We know it’s not going to happen overnight. If we have to go person-to-person, one-by-one, we’re going to get them back. We have to create a reason for people to care.”

Here’s a start: Don’t play like the Rebels did Wednesday.

Which is to say don’t have any more of the embarrassing efforts those opening 20 minutes offered.

UNR led 54-28 at halftime, when it was s 9-for-14 from 3-point range. It finished 13-for-24.

And while that translates to bunches of points, it wasn’t near the biggest issue for the Rebels.

Teams have those halves and nights. They can’t miss. It happens.

But the complete lack of interior defense by UNLV was ridiculous. No effort to stop anyone in blue.

Brandon McCoy, who might have had the quietest 19 points and 17 rebounds in history, allowed five uncontested layups alone in the first half.

How can you ever be that soft against anyone, never mind your rival?

It’s one thing not to show up at San Diego State and lose by 38.

But you don’t show up — like, at all — against UNR?

You don’t at some point just get tired of allowing layups and foul someone for the sake of it?

You never even try and send a message to those coming free down the lane?

It’s the sort of stuff that supports the belief a large portion of what was once an impassioned fan base has lost trust in UNLV, that last year’s disaster of a coaching search and the 11-win season that followed was enough for many to walk away for the foreseeable future.

“When I played here, the community and university were always connected, always,” said Robert Smith, radio analyst for UNLV and arguably the program’s best point guard in history who still, amazingly, stupidly, doesn’t have his jersey hanging from the rafters. “We were one in the same. Somehow, we have to get that back. I’m not sure how. But to see some of the crowds this year … it’s just disappointing.”

This is how bad it was Wednesday: Those rowdy UNLV students went nuts with 1:20 remaining because the Rebels made their third 3-pointer of the game, meaning free Raising Cane’s.

At the time of the shot, UNLV was down 30.

Contact columnist Ed Graney at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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