That rust from an 11-day layoff UNLV basketball fans feared was clearly evident Wednesday night at the Thomas & Mack Center.
The Rebels struggled to get out of first gear offensively and were lacking intensity defensively. Pacific took full advantage, getting to the basket often in the second half while making good from the 3-point arc in posting a 74-66 win.
It was another tough night for first-year coach T.J. Otzelberger, whose team dropped to 4-8 and did it in front of a paltry crowd of just 7,023. His team got outplayed and outworked by UOP, which is 11-3 and could look to make some inroads in the West Coast Conference.
“Our effort and energy was unacceptable,” Otzelberger said.
Not even the return of guard Jonah Antonio helped the Rebels. Antonio missed the last six games with a left thumb injury and his perimeter shooting was supposed to give UNLV an offensive boost.
But Orlando scored just three points in his return and looked out of sync as he went 1 for 6 from beyond the arc. So did the entire team for that matter as UNLV shot just 44 percent from the floor and made only six of the 22 3-pointers it attempted.
The Rebels also didn’t start Donnie Tillman and Bryce Hamilton for violation of team rules. Both would eventually get in as Hamilton finished with 13 points in 18:37 of action and Tillman played 28 minutes before fouling out in the second half.
Things looked like they were sorted out late in the first half as UNLV used a late 9-2 run to close out the opening 20 minutes to lead 35-29 at intermission. But Pacific got its own offense untracked, started attacking the basket and used some good ball movement to get open looks from outside. UOP made seven treys and shot 45 percent from long distance.
And with the Tigers a threat from inside and out and the Rebels failing to defend on a consistent basis, it didn’t take long for UOP to rally, take the lead, 44-43, just past the midway point of the second half. Eventually, they’d lead by as many as 12 late and the Tigers would avenge last year’s 96-70 loss at the T&M.
Amauri Hardy led UNLV with 19 points and Nick Blair added 14. But there was little support beyond that as Pacific’s Justin Moore led all scorers with 22 points. But none of Otzelberger’s players were drawing any praise afterward.
“I don’t think it’s a basketball thing; it’s a toughness thing,” Otzelberger said.
“It’s having the guts to go get a rebound or dive on the floor for a loose ball. It’s a will to win. It’s not fatigue. We have to be better at wanting to win when the game is on the line.”
The Rebels host Robert Morris Saturday afternoon. Perhaps they’ll shake off the rust on their half-court motion offense and find some defensive energy by then.