A UNLV season that started with so much promise now appears to be a season on the brink of disappointment … again.
The Runnin’ Rebels, who have failed to make the NCAA Tournament the past two seasons, fell to 0-3 in Mountain West action with a 59-57 loss at Wyoming on Saturday afternoon and did it in all too familiar fashion, blowing a big lead thanks to sloppy play (18 turnovers), poor free throw shooting (12-of-21, 57.1 percent) and questionable shot selection.
Junior guard Jason McManamen scored a game-high 17 points, including 5-of-7 3-pointers, and senior guard Josh Adams added 12 points and five assists as the Cowboys (9-8, 2-2) rallied from a 22-5 first half deficit, holding UNLV to just 32 percent shooting (7-of-22) in the second half.
Senior guard Ike Nwamu and freshman forward Derrick Jones Jr. each scored 10 points and freshman forward Stephen Zimmerman Jr. added nine points and 12 rebounds to lead the Rebels.
HOW IT HAPPENED: The Cowboys, who made just two of their first 17 shots while also committing six turnovers, held UNLV to just three field goals in the final 9:44 of the first half and used a pair of 10-0 spurts to close to within 31-27 at halftime. The second half featured 13 lead changes before Wyoming took the lead for good, 53-51, on a pair of free throws by guard Alexander Aka Gorski with 2:50 to go.
WHO STOOD OUT: McManamen hit four 3-pointers in less than six minutes near the end of the first half to get Wyoming back into the game. Zimmerman came within one point of his sixth double-double of the season but also had a game-high five turnovers.
THE SKINNY: Supporters of UNLV coach Dave Rice will point out that Boise State also started Mountain West play 0-3 last season and came back to finish in a tie for first place and earn a NCAA Tournament berth. Detractors will point out the Rebels have lost five of six games and appear to be regressing, especially on the offensive end of the floor. It’s hard to believe UNLV athletic director Tina Kunzer-Murphy, whose own job could be on shaky ground, would make a rash move and fire a coach this early in conference play. But if the Rebels don’t turn things around very quickly starting with Tuesday night’s home game with New Mexico, she may not have much choice.
QUOTES TO NOTE:
UNLV coach Dave Rice after his team blew a 17-point first half lead and fell to 0-3 in Mountain West play:
“I’m very dejected. I’m disappointed. I’m pissed.”
Rice on media speculation his job could be in jeopardy after Saturday’s loss.
“I fully expect to be coach (Tuesday night against New Mexico) and to get the team ready.”
Wyoming coach Larry Shyatt on his team’s defensive effort in holding UNLV to 40 percent shooting.
“I’ll have a couple glasses of wine tonight, when someone scores 57 points against us.”
UP NEXT: The Rebels return home for two games starting with a Tuesday night contest against New Mexico at 7 p.m. at the Thomas & Mack Center. The game will be broadcast by CBS Sports Network.
NOTABLE: UNLV connected on eight of its first 11 shots but made just 11 of the final 36 attempts. … The Rebels are 27-22 overall and 8-13 in Mountain West play since Rice signed a two-year contract extension in March of 2014 that goes through the 2018-19 season. … Wyoming finished with a 17-8 edge in points off turnovers. … UNLV finished with a season-low seven assists. … The Rebels committed 18 turnovers for the second straight game.