UNLV basketball rallying around defense against Colorado State

UNLV basketball rallying around defense against Colorado State

Steve Marcus

UNLV Rebels guard Luis Rodriguez (15) drives to the basket against Boise State Broncos forward Naje Smith (23) during the second half of an NCAA basketball game at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2023.

It’s been a rough start to Mountain West play for the Scarlet and Gray, as they’ve lost three of four against league opponents — including a defensive collapse in an 84-66 loss to Boise State on Wednesday.

Can UNLV bounce back Saturday when Colorado State visits the Thomas & Mack Center? Three keys to watch:

Kruger staying on the defensive course

UNLV has built a top-50 defense this season, and Kevin Kruger’s pressure-based system has the Scarlet and Gray ranked second in the nation in turnovers forced. But Boise State had little trouble using dribble penetration and ball movement to generate open shots every time down the court.

After practice Friday, Kruger said UNLV’s defensive strategy is still solid and he doesn’t expect to change the game plan.

What he wants to see is better execution.

“That was one of two, maybe three games where our offense was good enough to win the game and it was our defense that hurt us,” Kruger said. “We haven’t said much this year. So I don’t think we change much. I think we’re going to go back to what we’ve been working on the last few days, picking up that mess, getting that edge back.”

Boise State was the first team to pick on UNLV’s defense, but other Mountain West teams will surely study that tape and use similar tactics.

Kruger said players need to dig deeper now that they are not surprising opponents.

“We have to realize, the guys have done an unbelievable job of becoming an elite defensive team and when you do that, teams are going to come prepared,” Kruger said.

50/50 proposal

UNLV forced just 15 turnovers against Boise State, which was well below the team average of 19.6 per game. Kruger felt that number could have been higher if the Scarlet and Gray had been quicker to lose balls.

On some possessions they were able to get a deflection or force Boise State to fumble the ball, but too often the Broncos were able to regain control and eventually score.

Kruger wants his players to be upset when they smell an opportunity to clear the ball.

“When we were the aggressors, when we were more physical, most of those 50/50 balls, most of those loose balls that guys are diving for, we finished them,” Kruger said. “We had two plays in a two-minute stretch where Boise fumble-fumble-fumble-layup. We haven’t dealt with that much. It goes back to going back to our DNA, which is flying around and saving.”

Dick Calvert Night

For more than 50 years, Dick Calvert was the voice of UNLV basketball, providing PA coverage of some of the most memorable moments in program history. He retired before this season and will be recognized Saturday for those decades of service.

UNLV will hold a halftime ceremony in Calvert’s honor and commemorate his career by raising a banner in the rafters.

“If you’re going to sit down and talk about Runnin’ Rebel hoops, the voice for 52 years, that’s pretty historic,” Kruger said. “Extremely excited, proud, happy for him and his family that he will get the attention he deserves.”

Mike Grimala can be reached at 702-948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Mike on Twitter at twitter.com/mikegrimala.

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