FRESNO, Calif. — Three takeaways from the UNLV basketball team’s 69-63 loss to Fresno State on Tuesday at Save Mart Center:
1. There is a glimmer of hope.
UNLV did not play well in its first six Mountain West games, but won three of them because the competition was substandard and the Rebels found a way to make enough plays. They played their best conference game against Fresno State, even if the final score didn’t go the Rebels’ way.
This is about the time of year Fresno State begins to play its best, and the Bulldogs are a talented team capable of staying with anyone in the Mountain West. They were 5-point favorites against UNLV, but the Rebels had every chance to win the game, with two layups in the final nine seconds down two points. The first by Jordan Johnson was blocked and the second by Brandon McCoy didn’t drop.
The effort was there for 40 minutes, not the long lapses of flat play that have dogged the team.
So UNLV nearly pulled out a conference victory over a quality opponent, and though close doesn’t count in the standings, it could be something to build upon.
“I do feel like we played better defensively, for sure,” UNLV coach Marvin Menzies said. “I felt we were engaged defensively. We played harder defensively. Now on the flip side, shots we normally make, just weren’t falling. I thought we had some pretty good looks.”
2. Certain problems are likely to linger.
As Menzies mentioned, UNLV’s defense was better, holding Fresno State to 11 fewer points than the Rebels had given up on average in conference play. And the Rebels outrebounded the Bulldogs 36-31 after giving up on average three more to Mountain West opponents.
But UNLV still had trouble with its interior defense, with Fresno State’s Bryson Williams and Terrell Carter II combining to make 18 of 26 shots and score 38 points.
Turnovers also remained an issue, with the Rebels committing 16 of them.
Those are issues that are likely to continue to plague the Rebels.
3. Could this be a trend?
UNLV often went with two guards and three forwards in the second half, something the Rebels haven’t done this season. They have relied on a three-guard offense.
The Rebels went big, largely because of troubles with Carter, who is 6 feet 10 inches, 290 pounds. He scored 12 points in a dominant first half, but just six in the second 20 minutes. Carter did make other plays to help the Bulldogs win, but the three-forward look could be used more often as the season progresses.
“I thought the personnel matchups gave us a little bit of an advantage when we did that, especially in the second half because they were really killing us on the inside,” Menzies said. “So we got back to trying to front Carter a little bit. Bryson was really good tonight. He was knocking down the mid-range jumper (10 of 14, 20 points), which he is not as prolific at. Tonight, he was.”