Caleb Grill had his coming out party with his 27 point performance, with seven three-pointers against Alabama last night, but his effort was not enough as UNLV dropped its third game of the season, 86-74, to the Alabama Crimson Tide in the Maui Invitational.
UNLV played its best game of the season by far, but it was not enough to stop the hot shooting from the Alabama guards. The Crimson Tide shot 64 percent (seven of 17) in the second half and six players were in double figures including John Petty with 22 points. They also did not put together a complete game and play a full 40 minutes.
“I thought today, for long stretches, our guys played pretty well,” head coach T.J. Otzelberger said after the game. “We had some key stretches where our focus was not there and our effort was not as good as it needed to be. Overall, I thought there was 30-32 minutes of really good basketball, and that’s something to build on. But, for us to get where we need to be as a team and to be successful in a game like that, we can’t have those lapsed and stretches where we let them get going.”
Otzelberger noted three stretches where UNLV did not play its best and allowed Alabama to have its run. First, was the beginning of the game where the Crimson Tide started off on a 11-3 lead. Next was the beginning of the second half where Alabama made two three-pointers to start the half causing Otzelberger to call a timeout and rip his team a new one. And one midway through the second half when Alabama went on an 8-0 run after UNLV had tied the game at 53-53.
Aside from the effort and energy we saw from UNLV for most of the game, Grill stole the show with his offensive output, beginning with three straight three pointers to give UNLV a 12-11 lead early after Alabama sprinted out to a lead early. The Runnin’ Rebels and Crimson Tide traded blows the rest of the first half, with UNLV holding most of the lead in the first half.
The final few minutes of the first half were sloppy for UNLV, as they had three turnovers and had a couple of fouls that put Alabama at the free throw line, and allowed Alabama to tie the game at 38-38 when the first half ended. And that momentum carried into the second half when Alabama came out hot and knocked down its first few shots of the half.
Both teams trotted out a four guard lineup to start the game, with UNLV having the same starting five as they have all season, but the Crimson Tide were able to rely on everyone in its backcourt for help on the offensive end. All six players who scored in double figures for the Crimson Tide were their guards, and they combined to shoot 47 percent from three.
“We knew they were going to get a lot of shots up from three, we tried to take that away from them, but they got hot and had those little stretches like Coach (Otzelberger) said, and that’s probably the reason why we lost the game,” Grill said.
UNLV did not get the production they needed from their guards, like Alabama had, to keep up with the Crimson Tide scoring. Bryce Hamilton had 17 points, but missed 14 shots and David Jenkins had 12 points on 28.5 percent shooting. In total, the duo of Hamilton and Jenkins that was highly touted at the beginning of the year missed 24 total shots last night.
If UNLV is to have success this season and compete for a Mountain West title, those two cannot have poor shooting nights, especially Jenkins who has struggled in his first few games for UNLV. Otzelberger is not too worried about Jenkins’ slow start and is confident that he can find his rhythm and get back to the player that he can be.
“There’s a couple of moments tonight where we saw glimpses, but I know what he can do,” Otzelberger said. “And he’s got to stay the course embracing the things that are difficult in terms of defensively, rebounding and take that focus away from his offense. And I think his offense will come back to him.”
There was going to be a lot of attention put on Hamilton and Jenkins (who did not play last year due to transfer rules). With all that attention, there have been some mismatches with other players on the court, like with Grill and he has been trying to take advantage of that all season. Grill has scored in double figures in all three games this year after not scoring in double figures in any game last year at Iowa State. He has shown, in a small sample size this year, why Otzelberger recruited him out of high school and his potential in this style of offense.
“I have tremendous belief in him because of his work ethic, because of how much he wants to win, how competitive he is...He’s going to continue to flourish. I think there’s many great games, great days ahead for Caleb Grill in this program,” Otzelberger said.
It is just the third game for UNLV who has 10 new players in the program that did not have the summer to work out any issues on the practice court. Not only did they not have the amount of time they wanted to work out and practice at Mendenhall, but UNLV had two exhibition games planned and a trip to Canada with three more exhibition games. As UNLV goes through the non-conference portion of its schedule, it will be critical that everyone on the team gets comfortable playing together and ready for conference play.
“I think for us, it’s about getting into a rhythm and playing together because there’s only three returners and I think once we all get working together, we’re going to be really successful down the stretch,” Grill said.
UNLV plays tonight at 6:30 pm PT against Davidson in the seventh place game of the Maui Invitational. The game can be seen on ESPN 2 or heard on the radio locally on ESPN Las Vegas 1100 AM/100.9 FM.