In the middle of the late February fall from grace that has now officially sunk UNLV’s season, coach Marvin Menzies guaranteed he’d have his team playing their best in time for the postseason.
It might not be too early to file that one under “broken promises” after UNR ran UNLV out of the Thomas & Mack Center in a 101-75 victory Wednesday night. Ineptitude possessed the Rebels as they extended a season-high losing streak to four games.
Regardless of what happens Saturday at Utah State in the regular-season finale, UNLV is now locked into the play-in round of next week’s Mountain West Conference Tournament. No Mountain West team has ever, and quite possibly will ever, win the four games in four days it would require to clinch an NCAA Tournament berth.
Menzies will need to work some real magic to live up to his word of UNLV peaking when it matters. Bad news is, David Copperfield won’t even be available to do the “Lights, Please” call until next season with Wednesday’s blowout the final home game of the season.
The only thing that feels like an illusion now is that the Rebels actually beat the Wolf Pack earlier this season at Lawlor Events Center.
There’s no elixir to get the Rebels back to executing with that level of efficiency.
Similar to the losses at San Diego State and against Fresno State that started to spoil a season shaping up as somewhat promising, no crystal ball was necessary to conclude the result after the first 10 minutes of the game.
That’s right around the time the Wolf Pack were putting the finishing touches on a 13-0 run that sufficiently sucked any Senior Night spirit right out of the Rebels.
Senior guard Jovan Mooring got a well-deserved “JoJo” chant before the game when he was recognized, and the stage seemed set for him to lead another upset charge against the in-state rival that’s already clinched the conference title. Mooring scored 31 points in the victory at Reno, but on Wednesday, fans were unfortunately treated to the other side of the duality that’s defined his two years in the program.
Hobbled by an injury suffered on Sunday against New Mexico, Mooring missed his first six shots — most of them forced and ill-advised — and went 2-for-16 from the field overall.
He wasn’t much better on the other end where he’s typically more reliable. He was far from the only defensive problem.
It was almost as if the Rebels didn’t bother with a scouting report for the Wolf Pack.
To compete, they needed to limit Caleb Martin’s 3-point looks. Martin got all he could have ever wanted in burying six of his first seven, with twin brother Cody Martin nailing a wide-open triple during the same run for good measure.
Meanwhile, UNLV appeared more ill-prepared inside. The Rebels were paralyzed by the plethora of crafty post moves Jordan Caroline has used all year.
Caroline went 7-for-8 from the field with 22 points, trailing only the 26 points Caleb Martin racked up by slashing through the lane for the game high. Although freshman big man Brandon McCoy put up an eye-popping 19 points and 17 rebounds, any recent strides he had made defensively weren’t evident as he finished without a block for the third time in Mountain West play.
It was probably unfair to expect UNLV to beat UNR, a team with enough talent to make the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, twice. But being competitive in front of arguably the best home crowd of the year wasn’t too much to ask.
The Rebels are a team that looked more than capable of that 11 days ago, when they were sitting in the middle of the conference at 8-5 and set up to be a tough out come tournament time. While perhaps not impossible to regain that footing in the next week, it feels about as plausible as Menzies pulling a levitation act on the sideline.
The season is not a total loss. The Rebels are still highly likely to get to 20 overall wins, which is nothing to scoff at following last year’s 11-21 bottoming-out.
But Menzies has always stressed the importance of a team coming together at the end of the year, and it’s a disappointment that’s not happening.