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3 takeaways from UNLV’s loss to UNR: ‘We just got timid’

Updated February 19, 2024 - 7:35 pm

UNLV looked well on its way to winning its sixth straight game and claiming its fifth consecutive win over rival UNR late Saturday.

Instead, the Rebels squandered an 11-point second-half lead, and a late four-minute scoring drought resulted in a 69-66 loss to the Wolf Pack in front of an announced crowd of 9,517 at the Thomas &Mack Center.

“It was a tough way to finish,” UNLV coach Kevin Kruger said. “It was a really good 36, 37 minutes, and just a tough way to finish.”

Here are three takeaways from UNLV’s loss:

1. ‘Got timid’

That’s what Kruger said happened down the stretch as UNR chipped away at the second-half deficit.

UNLV (14-10, 7-5 Mountain West) led 56-45 with 9:10 left for its largest lead of the game and was up 62-53 with 5:31 to play before UNR went on a 10-0 run over the next four minutes to take the lead.

Forward Nick Davidson helped the Wolf Pack attack the basket. UNR made four layups and went 8-for-8 at the free-throw line in the final five minutes.

“We just got timid, and we fouled too much,” Kruger said. “What had gotten us there — we just need to keep that aggressiveness and the same level of intensity. We just got a little timid and gave up too many easy buckets.”

In the second half, the Wolf Pack scored 18 points in the paint and went 15-for-18 from the free-throw line in a game that featured 42 foul calls.

“We just seemed to be a little timid,” Kruger said. “At that point in the game, the last three minutes, you can’t worry about anything — if you have fouls or you don’t or whatever’s happening. We just got to keep that aggression and continue from that 36, 37 minutes that we played pretty good.”

2. Thomas’ brilliance

Freshman point guard Dedan Thomas Jr. had a team-high 19 points and added eight assists.

Thomas’ efforts were much-needed, as UNR double-teamed Kalib Boone, UNLV’s second-leading scorer at 12.3 points per game entering Saturday, and limited him to six points.

Thomas made 6 of 11 shots and added eight assists. His best play came midway through the second half as he dribbled around a UNR triple team and found a wide-open Jackie Johnson III, who drilled a corner 3 to give the Rebels a 62-53 advantage.

One regret for Thomas and the Rebels were his late misses at the free-throw line. He had two shots with 20 seconds left and the Rebels trailing by one, but missed both.

Thomas, who reclassified after his junior year at Liberty High School to join UNLV for this season, has become UNLV’s leading scorer (12.7).

“He’s such a great player that’s going to have an amazing career, so of course there’s a little more attention on (the missed free throws),” Kruger said. “These are regular growing pains. The best of the best don’t make every shot.”

3. Middle of pack

With a win Saturday, UNLV could have put itself within a half-game of first place in the Mountain West.

The Rebels would have been tied for third place with Boise State at 8-4 in the conference, just behind Utah State and San Diego State at 9-4.

Instead, the Rebels are tied for sixth with UNR (20-6, 7-5), with the Wolf Pack holding the head-to-head tiebreaker.

The loss snapped UNLV’s five-game overall winning streak and its four-game winning streak against UNR.

“We just didn’t execute as a team down the stretch,” junior forward Rob Whaley Jr. said. “It’s simple. We just have to execute better down the stretch. It’s been a problem for us in a couple of games, and we have to be better at it.”

UNLV next plays at Air Force at 8 p.m. Wednesday. The last time the teams played on Jan. 23, the Falcons romped to a 90-58 victory at the Thomas &Mack Center.

“I know this group, they’ll work hard Monday to get ready for Wednesday,” Kruger said.

Contact Alex Wright at awright@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AlexWright1028 on X.

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