UNLV didn’t play nearly well enough to beat Portland for the better part of 36 minutes on Wednesday night.
A pair of outstanding plays by Cody Doolin helped the Rebels steal a win, but it couldn’t mask the reality of what transpired for too much of the 75-73 overtime victory over Portland at Thomas & Mack Center.
“Just like earlier in the season, we continue to find ways to win,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said. “We understand we have to play better. We need to do a lot of things better. We know that.
“But we found a way to win a very important game.”
It looked like that wouldn’t happen for much of the night.
Portland jumped out of the gates on top and led 29-28 at the half. The Pilots stayed ahead nearly the entire second half and held a 59-51 advantage with 3:31 to play.
UNLV employed a full-court press at that time and eventually tied the game when Doolin spun through the lane and found Dwayne Morgan for a layup at the buzzer.
Doolin made a similar twisting drive at the end of the extra session, only to put up a shot himself that banked in with 0.4 seconds remaining to give the Rebels a victory.
“I think we didn’t really come out ready to play. With five minutes left, we had no choice. It was put up or shut up,” Doolin said. “We got some easy buckets. I think we got more layups in the last five minutes and the OT than the rest of the game combined.”
Doolin, a senior, said his young teammates will learn how to play with more of a sense of urgency from the opening tip.
“We don’t like to use the inexperienced word, but maybe it’s some of that,” he said.
Those lessons are always better learned in victories.
“It’s a great lesson and it didn’t cost us a game tonight,” Rice said. “Once we started playing, we were very good.”
Rashad Vaughn was one of the few Rebels to play well for most of the game.
He acknowledged it won’t be as easy for UNLV to overcome slow starts as the competition gets better. Starting with Saturday’s game against No. 13 Utah, the Rebels figure to be underdogs of four of their next five games.
“I think we need to come out with more intensity and come out hard. We’ve been starting slow and having to fight back. Against the good teams we have coming up, that will be much harder,” Vaughn said. “I think it starts with practice we have to go with the mindset to push each other.”
Contact reporter Adam Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-224-5509. Follow him on Twitter: @adamhilllvrj.