CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Three takeaways from UNLV’s 77-74 loss to Illinois on Saturday at State Farm Center:
1. The effort needs to be there for 40 minutes.
UNLV outscored the Illini 27-16 in the final 8:12 and almost stole the victory. Not waiting until the closing minutes is a lesson that coach Marvin Menzies can hammer into his players before they face Brigham Young on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena.
“We played with more urgency,” Menzies said. “It was weird, at the beginning of the game and beginning of the (second) half, it wasn’t urgent. Unfortunately, younger teams tend to get motivated by their offense. I think we made a few shots, and they were, ‘Wait a minute, we’re down by nine. Now we’re down by seven, down by five.’ And so they played harder defensively.
“The film will be really beneficial for these guys to figure out how to make some adjustments and win a game like that.”
The Rebels can look back at similar stretches in this three-game losing streak as reasons for losses to Valparaiso and Cincinnati, but those outcomes were decided well before the final buzzer.
“We knew we could play with this team,” UNLV guard Amauri Hardy said of Illinois. “We knew it was about fighting till the game was over.”
2. Freshman Joel Ntambwe should shoot more often.
Ntambwe’s career-high 18 points on 5-of-9 shooting (2-for-2 on 3-pointers) shouldn’t have been a surprise.
He had made 4 of 6 3-pointers in his previous three games, so even though the volume wasn’t there, the accuracy was evident.
“He was a little more aggressive today,” Menzies said. “I think he had a size advantage, which may have made him a little more comfortable. His energy is why he plays, and he was really aggressive on the glass (seven rebounds).”
3. The Rebels are in an unusual stretch.
UNLV’s schedule this month looks like one more suited for a football team.
The Rebels came to Illinois not having played in a week, and they don’t hit the court for another week. Then it’s another week before they play three games in four days in the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu.
After that tournament, UNLV takes another week off before opening Mountain West play Jan. 2 against Colorado State at the Thomas & Mack Center.
Menzies said he liked the extra preparation time because he and his coaching staff can put more focus on improvement rather than game planning.
“We will get there,” he said. “I’m 100 percent sure this team is a capable bunch. I look forward to seeing them grow. It’s going to be fun.”