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UNLV coach T.J. Otzelberger looking for more than effort

UNLV coach T.J. Otzelberger was rightfully unhappy following Saturday’s 72-68 loss to Southern Methodist.

That game was the latest in the varying ways the Rebels (2-5) have found to lose close games.

Otzelberger said after the game he would start “to impose my will” with his players to get them to pay better attention to details. After watching video of that game, his opinion hasn’t wavered.

“I think we’re trying hard,” Otzelberger said. “I just think we’re having breakdowns at key moments where we miss a blockout, we don’t sprint back in transition.

“There’s a difference between a competitive effort and a winning effort. I think our guys are reasonably competitive, but I think it’s one play here, one play there, one play here, one play there that keeps putting us in the same spot of well they tried hard, but came up short again.”

Otzelberger probably won’t learn how much his team has taken to heart the coach’s admonitions until Saturday when they play at Cincinnati. Tuesday’s 7 p.m. game against Jackson State (1-5) at the Thomas & Mack Center should be a walkover for the Rebels.

Or, at least, they better hope it’s that kind of game against a team ranked No. 319 by Kenpom, or the Rebels have real problems.

Whether UNLV has guard Jonah Antonio for this game is a real question. He has missed the past two games with an injured left hand.

With or without Antonio, the Rebels need to clear up those issues that have kept them from winning more games. In addition to the SMU loss, they’ve lost in overtime to Kansas State and California and were defeated by seven points by Texas State.

By comparison, Jackson State lost 80-63 at SMU and 73-58 at Texas State.

“I think the hardest thing to do is get a group of guys who haven’t won together to believe they can win together,” Otzelberger said. “That includes the returning guys as well as the new guys coming in. … We’ve continued to demonstrate in four different games — three on our home court and one at Cal — that we’re good enough to play with good teams, but we’ve got to have that absolute focus and winning effort at critical moments.”

Otzelberger said that work begins in practice.

“Right now, we’re seeing guys come to practice to practice,” he said. “Not that they’re not giving effort, but giving effort isn’t enough if you want to change the fate of winning and losing. It’s got to be more than that.”

More Rebels: Follow at reviewjournal.com/Rebels.

Contact reporter Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com. Follow @markanderson65 on Twitter.

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