For the second straight game, UNLV played a tough opponent down to the wire, only to commit a series of late miscues that ended up deciding the contest. On Wednesday, it was an avoidable overtime loss at Northern Iowa. On Saturday, it was an even more heart-wrenching overtime loss to Arizona, 91-88, in front of the biggest crowd of the season at the Thomas & Mack Center.
The consecutive defeats have dropped the Rebels to 6-2 on the season, though the team was so tantalizingly close to 7-1 (or 8-0, for that matter) that they can probably feel it.
Had UNLV been able to defend for just two seconds late in the overtime period, the Rebels very well may have avoided the most recent loss.
After a Brandon McCoy dunk tied the game, 86-86, with 1:09 to play in OT, Arizona took possession and ran the shot clock down before Allonzo Trier drove baseline and attempted a reverse layup. UNLV forward Shakur Juiston blocked the shot and spiked the ball out of bounds with just 2 seconds remaining on the shot clock.
A defensive stop on the inbound play would have given UNLV the ball and the ability to hold for the last shot in a tie game. But when the ball went live, Arizona center DeAndre Ayton broke free under the basket to receive the short inbound pass. Juiston scrambled and was forced to foul Ayton to prevent a dunk.
Ayton made 1-of-2 from the line to give Arizona the lead for good, and after a few more UNLV mistakes, the Wildcats were able to put the game away.
Juiston, who fouled out on the inbound action, said he saw the play developing but was unable to stop it.
“We believed that they were going to throw a lob,” Juiston said. “I took away the lob, but they were just pushing me and fouling me, manhandling me when I was going around a screen. I didn’t blame the refs or anything, but after that we were trying to take away any kind of inside touch, any early feed. They just got lucky. The guard threw a nice pass and got it in.”
An official review of the out-of-bounds call gave Arizona coach Sean Miller a few minutes to draw up a good inbound play, and the Wildcats made the most of that lucky break.
UNLV head coach Marvin Menzies thought Arizona got another break on the actual play with the lack of a whistle.
“We executed it half-decent, but we just got out-physicaled,” Menzies said. “They pushed through screens that I think were fouls, but I don’t officiate. I just coach.”
The botched inbound defense on a short clock was just one opportunity that slipped through the Rebels’ fingers.
After UNLV stormed through the first half and took a 41-30 lead into the break, Arizona slowly worked its way back into the game. Arizona took its first lead, 61-60, with 9:39 to play, and neither team led by more than three points the rest of the way.
Ayton scored Arizona’s final eight points in regulation, and a McCoy layup tied the score, 78-78, with 39 seconds to play. Arizona committed a shot clock violation on the ensuing possession, giving UNLV the ball and a chance to win with 9 seconds remaining.
Menzies did not use his final timeout, instead putting the ball in Jovan Mooring’s hands. Mooring dribbled the length of the floor, darted around a high screen and fired a long 3-pointer from the right wing that bounced off the rim as the buzzer sounded.
Menzies said the play was designed for Mooring to drive inside the arc, but defended Mooring’s shot selection as a heat-of-the-moment decision.
“I put the ball in his hand for a reason,” Menzies said. “In that particular case, it just didn’t work to our advantage. I know he’s in pain right now. He’ll push through. He’ll be fine.”
The teams went back and forth for the first four minutes of overtime until the inbound play gave Arizona an 87-86 lead with 36 seconds to play.
Because Juiston fouled out on the play, Menzies inserted freshman forward Tervell Beck in his place. On the Rebels’ ensuing possession, point guard Jordan Johnson ran the game clock down before dishing to Beck for an open 3 from the left wing.
Beck, who hadn’t played since the 6:33 mark of the second half, was understandably cold and missed the shot. Arizona grabbed the rebound, UNLV fouled and Trier made a pair of free throws.
Arizona fouled Johnson on the next play to stop him from attempting a game-tying 3-pointer. With just 2 seconds on the game clock, Johnson made the first free throw to close the deficit to 89-87, and Menzies directed him to miss the second intentionally, hoping for an offensive rebound and a chance at tying the game on a tip-in or winning with a 3-pointer. Johnson tried to miss, putting more arc on his shot than usual, but the ball dropped through the net anyway.
UNLV fouled Trier on the inbound pass, he made both and the game was over.
Trier and Ayton carried the load for Arizona. Trier finished with 29 points, while Ayton totaled 28 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks.
The Rebels wasted tremendous performances from their big-man tandem of McCoy and Juiston. McCoy scored a career-high 33 points, while Juiston posted 21 points, nine rebounds and four blocks. The two combined to score 34 of UNLV’s 47 points in the second half and overtime.
After the Rebels’ second consecutive loss, Menzies said the team’s focus won’t be on individual performances, but on finding a way to win games like this.
“There’s a lot of individual accolades that could be statistically thrown around,” Menzies said, “but we didn’t win, and all these kids came here to win. So we’ve got to tighten some things up, keep growing, keep getting better and we will win going forward.”