WyoSports senior editor Robert Gagliardi did a question-and-answer session with Matt Youmans, who covers UNLV men’s basketball for the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
UNLV (20-7 overall, 7-5 Mountain West) plays at Wyoming (18-8, 4-8) at 5:30 p.m. today in Laramie.
Question: UNLV has won 14 straight home games but has struggled on the road, especially in league play. What are the main reasons for the Rebels’ road woes?
Answer: When you say “struggled” you’re being too kind. The Rebels are 1-9 in their past 10 Mountain West road games, a pathetic skid that started with a 68-66 loss at Wyoming last Feb. 4. The coaches and players share the blame. The coaches are obviously not motivating the players or making the necessary adjustments on the road, and the players need to be held accountable for a lack of effort and intensity. UNLV’s past three losses at Air Force, Fresno State and Boise State were particularly disturbing because the team’s effort was poor. In addition to those factors, the Rebels have all kinds of problems scoring in their half-court offense, and most of the conference road games are played at a slower pace. Defense travels better than offense, too, and UNLV is weaker defensively under Dave Rice than it was under Lon Kruger. It’s an immature team with a relatively new coaching staff, so some struggles on the road can be expected, but 1-9 is ridiculous.
Q: Are you surprised that UNLV is where it is in the conference standings at this point?
A: Considering this is the most talented team in the league, with a possible top-5 NBA draft pick in freshman Anthony Bennett, how can you not be a little surprised? UNLV is 7-5 in the conference, and most of us probably thought 9-3 was realistic at this point. The loss at Fresno State stands out as the ugly black eye on the season.
Q: Has this been a season where it has taken UNLV some time to get all of the talent on its roster to understand roles, and if so, how do you think that has progressed to this point?
A: I’m not going to make a lot of excuses for an underachieving team. Mike Moser’s dislocated elbow in December was a major setback, but it’s not the explanation for everything. It has been a young team, which explains some of the road issues, but by mid-February inexperience becomes a lame excuse and it certainly is not a legit reason for trailing Air Force by 24 points.
Q: We talked a lot about former Wyoming coach Heath Schroyer being on the UNLV staff last year. But now that Schroyer is in his second season there, what is your take of his job as an assistant and is the whole “coming back to Wyoming” this year wore off compared to last year?
A: Schroyer is actively involved in everything, from the defense to offense to recruiting to practices to game coaching. I don’t think going back to Wyoming means much to him the second time around, but this is an important game. If UNLV loses Saturday, the entire coaching staff is going to be feeling the heat from angry fans.
Q: What does UNLV need to do well Saturday to win in Laramie, and does Wyoming have a shot to pull off the upset?
A: Of course, the Cowboys have got a shot. The Rebels are so bad on the road, Casper College would have a shot. UNLV needs to limit turnovers, for a change, shoot the 3 at a decent percentage and defend a hell of a lot better than it has recently on the road. Wyoming needs big production from Leonard Washington and Larry Nance Jr., and that’s assuming Washington will play. Expect a competitive game. I’ll call for UNLV to win by 4.