BOISE, Idaho — Youth is out the window now, no longer any sort of acceptable reasoning for when and why UNLV’s basketball team performs as it did Tuesday night.
Youth doesn’t dictate effort. First-graders can play hard all the time if they want, or at least if there is a special treat at snack time for those who look engaged. Chris Wood should take notice.
Youth certainly doesn’t define basketball IQ, of which the Rebels appear at times to lack altogether.
Youth had absolutely nothing to do with the sloppy play and ill-advised decisions that led to them dropping an 82-73 overtime result to Boise State before 4,387 at Taco Bell Arena.
If there is such a thing as 20 critical moments — or, in this case, 25 — that could ultimately define a season, UNLV faced them here against a Boise State side that entered having not won a Mountain West game in three tries and is missing its best player (Anthony Drmic) for the season with injury.
The Rebels, now losers of four of five and just 1-3 in conference, treated the opening 20 minutes as if they were a superior side comfortably atop the conference standings, neither of which is close to the truth.
Disinterested doesn’t begin to define how UNLV appeared much of that first half.
Wood especially drug himself through 17 minutes, pouting when things didn’t go his way and yet not paying for it with time on the bench.
It is one of the more maddening things about the sophomore for those who watch and follow UNLV, his fondness for playing hard over stretches and not others.
Wood finished with 12 points, 10 rebounds and one foolish flex to the Boise State student section with his team trailing by four … and the Broncos pushing the ball in transition the other way.
This is not the smartest UNLV team in history. The Rebels played overtime as if Thomas in the “The Maze Runner,” deposited in a community of turnovers and obliging with enough bad passes that made it easy for Boise State to gain a lead and run away.
Mind you, the Broncos are not near the level of recent seasons. Drmic is a huge loss and while senior Derrick Marks (28 points, six rebounds, four assists, three steals) remains one of the league’s best players, he is surrounded by a bunch of guys who, well, try really hard.
UNLV looked lost against the most humble of pressure, something it should probably address before meeting San Diego State on Saturday, where defense and pressure and doubling-on-the-catch from the Aztecs will test the Rebels from the opening tip.
The Rebels did things Tuesday like coming out of timeouts and running nothing resembling an offense until the shot clock expired. They came out of a stoppage during overtime and couldn’t inbound the ball before a five-second violation was called. They stopped attacking the rim late in regulation and into overtime and instead began launching NBA-range 3-pointers that only helped extend Boise State’s lead at the other end.
They didn’t call a timeout with 13 seconds in regulation in a tie game — not the worst decision, until the shot you get is a 25-foot attempt by guard Rashad Vaughn. That goes to basketball IQ. If that’s the shot you’re getting, call timeout and draw something up.
The Rebels had pretty much everyone but coach Dave Rice take his hand at guarding Marks at one time or another, but never brought any sort of consistent double-team against by far the best player on the court.
UNLV was credited with 15 turnovers, but it seemed twice that. It was lackadaisical with the ball all evening to the senior point guard Cody Doolin had to be removed during overtime following two costly turnovers.
It’s not as bad a loss as the one to UNR at home last week, but it’s not near acceptable, either. UNLV is very much a 10-7 team today, skilled in places and yet so out of sync at both ends of the court for stretches that anyone with halfway decent coaching and ability will have a chance to beat the Rebels.
UNLV appears again a team that can put it all together for a 40-minute stretch (see the win against Arizona, and perhaps at San Diego State on Saturday?) but in the big picture of an entire season, there are more warts and flaws than positives most nights.
You want one word to define this latest loss?
Yeah. There was no way I was stopping at one.
Youth can be talked about on Dec. 13. Not on Jan. 13.
Not with how UNLV lost here.
But, hey, Wood had a really nice flex with his team down four …
He played a team-high 42 minutes. Wow.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 100.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.