UNLV went to Air Force off to its best conference start in 20 years.
The Rebels then turned in their worst defensive performance of the season.
The Falcons jumped on UNLV from the beginning and soundly beat the Rebels 106-88 on Wednesday night at Air Force Academy, Colorado.
“They were executing against every press that I threw at them,” UNLV coach Marvin Menzies said. “Their press offense never really attacks you. They attacked tonight. They got layups and 3s off our press. They normally just break it and try to run their stuff. ”
Clune Arena again proved to be a tough venue for the Rebels (9-7, 3-1 Mountain West), who lost for the fourth time in five trips there. UNLV’s only victory over that stretch was last season.
This loss to Air Force (7-10, 2-3) continued an inconsistent season. UNLV was coming off its best game of the season in winning at New Mexico, but in two conference home games had to rally to beat Colorado State and Wyoming.
UNLV also caught an improving Air Force team. The Falcons defeated San Diego State by 14 points on Saturday, outrebounding the taller Aztecs 39-33.
It was a similar theme against UNLV, with Air Force grabbing 35 rebounds to UNLV’s 31. The Rebels entered the game with an average rebounding edge of plus-9.1, second in the conference.
Air Force was even more dominant scoring inside, owning a 56-29 edge in the lane.
But the Rebels also have been devastated by injuries inside, with Shakur Juiston (knee) and Cheickna Dembele (hand) out for the season. Mbacke Diong didn’t play against the Falcons because of a sprained ankle.
Short-handed or not, the Rebels were poor defensively, giving up 36 points above their average and allowing the Falcons to reach triple digits for the first time this season.
Air Force shot 54.5 percent in the first half on its way to a 48-34 lead. The Falcons never trailed after the game’s first minute and used a 10-point run to go ahead 26-15 and never allow UNLV to make a serious run.
The Falcons made 59.7 percent of their shots. The Rebels shoot 48.4 percent, including 50 percent from 3-point range.
Amauri Hardy led UNLV with a career-high 23 points, making 5 of 8 3-pointers. Joel Ntambwe scored 18 and Kris Clyburn 15.
Six players reached double figures for the Falcons, with Ryan Swan scoring a team-high 22 points.
UNLV next plays San Jose State (3-13, 0-4) at 4:30 p.m. Saturday at the Thomas & Mack Center.
“It only counts for one loss,” Menzies said. “I don’t think anybody expected us to go undefeated. You’ve got to give them full credit for just crushing us.”