Rebels suffer first loss of season behind three-plus minute scoreless stretch
Poor execution down-the-stretch on offense and defense resulted in the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels’ first loss of the season in the team’s 11th outing. That puts an end to the program’s best start since the 1990-91 season.
“That was what we talked about in the locker room,” head coach Kevin Kruger said. “Just getting back to Monday and getting back at it and doing what we had done to get to this point.”
In shocking fashion, the Rebels were downed by the San Francisco Dons, 75-73, Saturday, Dec. 17 from the Thomas & Mack Center in a game where the home team led by as many as 11 points. Last season, San Francisco beat UNLV by 21 points from the War Memorial Gym in Northern California.
“100 percent,” senior guard Luis Rodriguez said when asked if the team let this one slip away. “I think it’s the communication part of it. Yeah, we let it slip but we just have to be better down-the-stretch and clean up certain things.”
Coming into the game, the Rebels were one of seven undefeated teams in Division-I college basketball, three of which resided in the Mountain West.
The team is now 10-1 with one more non-conference game to play.
“A lot to take from [the first loss of the season],” Kruger said. “[We’re] going to recalibrate on Monday and kind of get back to it and tighten some things up going into Southern Mississippi.”
As mentioned, Southern Mississippi will be the final non-conference game on the UNLV’s schedule and is set to be played Thursday, Dec. 22 from the Thomas & Mack Center. Tip-off is slated for 7 p.m.
San Francisco took control of the game late, closing the game on an 11-0 run after falling behind by nine with just over three minutes left in regulation. Despite the win, the road team led for a total of 47 seconds while UNLV held the lead for just under 39 minutes.
“We just didn’t communicate enough to find the open man,” Rodriguez said. “They beat us to a couple of spots on defense. It’s just really just our talking, we didn’t communicate.”
With one final gasp of breath, Rebels sophomore guard Keshon Gilbert hoisted a three-pointer that would’ve won the game from just inside the ‘U’ of the UNLV painted at half-court.
“Keshon has been shooting it great,” Kruger said. “We wanted to get downhill and just kind of get a good look at the rim.”
The Rebels were up by as many as 11 points in the second half including being up by 10 minutes with as little as 12:25 left on the clock.
As the Dons chipped away at the home team’s lead, Kruger and company opted to hang onto their three timeouts. By the final buzzer, Kruger’s club had two unused timeouts.
“We’re always talking about it,” Kruger said. “When to call it, when not to call them. Guys have been in these situations a couple of times this year and gotten stops by just letting the flow of the game happen.”
By the media timeout taken with 6:31 left in the second half, San Francisco had cut the once double-digit lead down to three. About five minutes later, the team sliced it to one.
“He trusts us a lot,” Rodriguez said. “It’s basketball and it's a game of runs. They’re going to make their runs but we just have to be better defensively– it just comes down to defense.”
The final dagger came in the form of a drifting three-pointer with less than eight seconds in regulation. That marked the ninth make from deep in 35 attempts by the Dons after coming into the game shooting 31% as a team.
Earlier in the game, San Francisco went 1-for-14 during a stretch from three-point territory.
“We’re not comfortable with anybody getting open look threes,” fifth-year guard EJ Harkless said. “They did a good job of sharing it. It’s on us to scramble and get ball pressure. That’s something that we can’t wait to work on this week.”
UNLV shot 10% from deep in the second half after posting a 44%-mark in the first half.
Harkless did the heavy lifting in the first half, scoring eight of the team’s first 16 points from the floor. He went on to score 13 of his 21 points in the first half.
By the final buzzer, he racked up his 21 points on 7-of-17 from the field including two made threes to go along with five rebounds and five assists.
In the second half, the team was lifted by the play of Rodriguez, who scored nine of his 17 points in the latter 20-minute session. Rodriguez posted his 17 points on 7-of-13 shooting in addition to seven rebounds and a team-high three steals.
This was the first game the program played without fifth-year guard Elijah Parquet as he recovers from a knee injury. Senior guard Justin Webster got the start in his place, scoring seven points on 3-of-7 shooting with a made three.