Three takeaways from UNLV’s 83-65 loss to Fresno State on Saturday at the Thomas & Mack Center:
1. This five-game stretch created clarity.
It’s not as if UNLV was considered a conference contender, but there is clear separation between the Rebels and those at the top. The questions are what they do to close the gap and how long it will take.
Two years from now?
As far as this season, UNLV still can show progress by finishing in the top five of the conference standings and avoiding the first-day play of the Mountain West tournament next month at the Thomas & Mack. The Rebels were the No. 8 seed last season. With a favorable schedule that doesn’t include rematches with Utah State and Fresno State, they should have every chance to make the top five.
UNLV fans, of course, want more from this program, but it won’t happen this season.
“Growing pains, man,” UNLV coach Marvin Menzies said. “Good kids. I wouldn’t trade them for the world. Keep loving them up, teaching them up, growing, be very demanding, holding them accountable. We’ll get there. I’m not concerned at all about that. It’s part of the process.”
2. Fresno State’s perimeter defense stepped up.
Bulldogs first-year coach Justin Hutson established his reputation as a defensive specialist in 10 seasons as an assistant at San Diego State, so it’s little surprise Fresno State knows how to play defense. The Bulldogs entered the game third in the conference in scoring defense, allowing 66.9 points per game, four-tenths behind leader Utah State.
They showed how effective their perimeter defense was in limiting UNLV to 3-of-15 shooting on 3-pointers. The Rebels made 14 of 26 3-pointers at Boise State.
“(Fresno State is) a very good defensive team and can get their hands in there and are long and they dig,” Menzies said. “They didn’t turn us over (10 UNLV giveaways), but they forced us into a lot of tough shots. You’ve got to give them credit on that side of the ball as well.”
3. UNLV needs an answer against Air Force.
“Our defense has to be a lot better than it was up there,” UNLV guard Noah Robotham said. “We have to lock in. I’m sure this game plan will be a little bit more simple than the last one. We probably won’t be doing as much switching as we did up at Air Force. Air Force actually did play good offense, but our defense was not good. That’s a nice way to say it.”