UNLV suffers melt down against Air Force, loses by 32

Kalin Sipes-The Sporting Tribune
That sound you just heard is Kevin Kruger's seat once again being lit on fire.

LAS VEGAS — Through five games of Mountain West ball, UNLV looked like a genuinely different team than the one we saw limp to the finish line in non-conference play. So much for that. They reverted to all of their past issues on Tuesday and were in turn ran out of the Thomas and Mack Center by 32 to an Air Force team slated to finish in the bottom of the conference. The Runnin’ Rebels were beat by a score of 90-58 in front of a crowd that was filing out the arena at the halfway point of the second half.

The Falcons started the game on a 33-10 run through 14:24 of play, in large part due to a scorching 5-6 start from behind the arc but also because UNLV’s complete ineptitude on the offensive end. Beau Becker started the game a perfect 4-4 from three for Air Force and was at one point outscoring UNLV 12-10 on his own.

When asked what his message was to his team offensively at that point in the game, Kevin Kruger replied “You just try to do whatever you can to get them going. We’ve had a lot of success in the games we’ve won getting into the post, attacking the paint. That was kind of the message.”

The nightmarish evening got even worse in the second half. Justin Webster left the game with an ankle injury and was helped to the locker room without putting any weight on his leg. The injury was another blow for the Runnin’ Rebels, who were clearly deflated and uninspired in the second half. Air Force managed to score 51 points in the second half which was especially impressive considering they had the game essentially won at halftime.

With a far less talented but hungry Air Force team coming to town and UNLV coming off a tough stretch of opponents, the potential was certainly there for a let down game. Even against an Air Force team that was 0-5 in-conference leading up to this. Bettors seemed to think this too, as the opening spread of -12.5 dwindled down to -10.5 at game time. Air Force, to their credit, smelled blood in the water and attacked.

“As a team, we didn’t take them seriously at all, and that was our fault,” Boone admitted to the media after the game.

“We didn’t come out with the right mentality, the right mindset. It’s not just one day, this was the whole prep of it. We could have been better in our prep, getting ready for it today and then obviously competing today.”

When asked if that was on the players on the coaches, both Boone and Rob Whaley spoke up and said it was “definitely on the players”. Boone then continued, “the coaches had nothing to do with it. They gave us a great scout. At the end of the day, we’re a veteran group. Nothing but seniors and juniors around here, so we just gotta do our part.”

UNLV’s lack of a true scoring option was glaringly apparent, especially with the Boones and DJ Thomas struggling to get anything going on the offensive end. When you combine that with the stale, stagnant offense that Kevin Kruger has implemented for this team, you get results like tonight. There is no cohesiveness to be seen. No fluidity in the ball movement. Just five guys playing offense as if they were the only person on the floor, none able to even buy a basket.

Sure, Kruger doesn’t deserve all of the credit for the loss. He did not get a single good performance from his entire roster. On the other hand, tonight also showed he probably doesn’t deserve any credit for surviving the gauntlet to start conference play either. They won those games simply because the players showed up and made shots. Kruger either runs the same stale offense each game or doesn’t have the authority to get his team to play within his system. Both are costing this team games.

The defensive performance for UNLV was horrendous in its own right, but there is only so much you can do when a team is shooting as good as Air Force shot throughout the night. Still, Kalib Boone was far from being a resisting force in the post and they were beat on the glass once again by a smaller, less athletic team.

Rytis Pretraitis notched a triple-double for Air Force, tallying 15 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists. Five Air Force players scored in double figures, with Ethan Taylor leading all scorers with 22. Justin Webster led UNLV with 14 points before he left with an injury.

UNLV is back on the road Saturday, facing off against San Jose State at 6 p.m. on Fox Sports 1. They will look to bring their record back above .500 with a win.