Player introductions before Saturday night’s game between UNLV and 14th-ranked Utah at the MGM Grand Garden Arena featured the sound of a boxing bell and featured team intros like a heavyweight fight.
It made for good theatre in a building better known for its boxing and UFC legacy. Unfortunately, Dave Rice’s squad took the shtick a little too far, shooting as if they were wearing boxing gloves in a 59-46 loss.
The Rebels shot 32.7 percent from the floor, made just 2-of-11 3-pointers and were a dreadful 10-of-23 from the free throw line. UNLV also turned the ball over 15 times and finished with just five assists.
“When you play against a ranked team, you’re not going to be able to go 10 for 23 at the foul line and make 15 turnovers and win the game,” Rice said.
Delon Wright scored a game-high 17 points and had four steals to lead the Utes (8-2) while Brandon Taylor finished with 16 points and six steals and Jakob Poeltl overcame early foul trouble to score eight second half points.
Rashad Vaughn scored 16 points on 6-of-16 shooting and Christian Wood added eight points and a game-high 13 rebounds for UNLV (7-3), which had its three-game win streak snapped. Goodluck Okonoboh finished with seven points and six blocks for the Rebels, but was just 3-of-9 at the free throw line.
“We shoot a ton of free throws in practice,” Rice said. “One of the keys to the Portland (win) on Wednesday was that we were 13-of-15 at the line.”
“I think the free throws are something we need to really improve on,” added point guard Cody Doolin, who finished 3-of-4 at the line, said. “I think mentally maybe we just need to be confident and stand up there and knock them down.”
Despite its glaring offensive shortcomings, UNLV still was competitive for much of the game, trailing 24-23 at halftime and 34-33 with 12:50 remaining in the game. But Utah then pulled away with a 10-1 spurt as the Rebels went over six minutes without a field goal.
“There were a lot of positives for us tonight,” Rice said. “I thought our defensive game-plan was terrific. We held one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country to four offensive rebounds. We just weren’t nearly efficient tonight on the offensive end to be able to come away with a win.”
UNLV returns to action on Tuesday night at 7 p.m. when it hosts Arizona.