UNLV is trying to stake a claim to the “Best in the West” title, but the program’s pitch has fallen on deaf ears so far.
Oregon, which hadn’t even entered the conversation about the best basketball team out west prior to Thanksgiving, showed on Friday why it may be time to pay the school some notice. The Ducks knocked off the Runnin’ Rebels, 83-79 in the semifinals of the Global Sports Classic, dealing UNLV its first loss at the Thomas & Mack Center in 21 games.
Forget, though, the singular implications of the one loss. An early-season four-point loss to an underrated Ducks team won’t make-or-break UNLV’s season. The ominous trends that manifested in Friday’s semifinal could, however, if they don’t self-correct within the coming months. To wit:
1. Mike Moser is off to an alarmingly slow start. The junior forward and preseason All-Mountain West first teamer has stumbled out of the gates. Attribute the rough start to early-season jitters, rust, lofty preseason expectations or a statistical fluke—whatever the cause—Moser needs to play like an All-American for the Rebels’ engine to click on all cylinders. No. 43 was a no-show in the season opener versus Northern Arizona (just two points), and disappeared again against Oregon.
2. Point guard play. Anthony Marshall is one of the top guards in a conference rife with good ones, but he needs to do a better job as a point guard at integrating the bread and butter of the team: the frontcourt. Only eight touches for Moser against the undersized [and athletically overmatched] Ducks is not nearly enough. His five turnovers on the afternoon, meanwhile, were far too many.
3. Turnover prone. The aforementioned point guard has been a major culprit, but he isn’t the only one. The Rebels, as a team, committed 18 turnovers against an Oregon team that doesn’t ordinarily force many. UNLV has turned the ball over at least 17 times in all three games it’s played this season against mediocre defensive teams, no less. Bona fide Final Four contenders are not so careless with the basketball.
4. Porous transition defense. One way to atone for poor transition D is to hustle back to the other end. The other is by not having to play transition defense at all. Address problem No. 3, and No. 4 becomes less of an issue.
5. Closing. Judging by its first close test of the young season, UNLV has a lot to work on in terms of late-game execution. The Rebels missed their final four shots—and they weren’t great looks—as the Ducks closed on a 6-0 run in the game’s final 1:30. The number of sets ran through Mike Moser in the last five minutes: zero. Begin by fixing that.