To start the year UNLV's frontcourt was widely considered one of the best in the nation, however after the early season transfer of Goodluck Okonoboh, and the season ending injury to Ben Carter, what was a strength is now their biggest weakness.
New Mexico forward Tim Williams would score at will in the post against the tired and short handed Rebel forwards scoring 12 straight points down the stretch to help the Lobos defeat UNLV 87-83.
After being man handled by a physical San Diego State team and losing one of their most important players, there was a lot of concern as to how the Rebels would respond on short rest, with a short bench in a hostile environment. The good news is they responded by playing the type of game that we have been expecting to see all year.
The Rebels consistently gave touches in the post to their standout center Stephen Zimmerman and had one of their best shooting nights from beyond the arc, connecting on 12 of 26 of their 3-point attempts, and had a chance with under 15 seconds to either tie the game or take a one point lead.
After a two point bucket from Tim Williams, Jerome Seagears brought the ball down court and attempted a contested layup against New Mexico's 7'1" center Obij Aget. His shot would be blocked and recovered by New Mexico and UNLV would be forced to foul and wouldn't score again. UNLV just couldn't overcome the disparity in the depth, fouls and the scoring from New Mexico's two best players.
Tim Williams finished with a game high 29 points, while perennial player of the week candidate Elijah Brown finished with 26 points. Stephen Zimmerman led all Rebels in scoring with a career high 21 points and logged a career high five blocks.
.@BIGG_ZIMM, who is southpaw, showing off his athleticism as he shoots right-handed #UNLVmbb https://t.co/prWRQZFxfh— UNLV Basketball (@TheRunninRebels) February 3, 2016
Jordan Cornish also had an impressive night for UNLV, scoring 17 points, while shooting 5-6 from 3-point range.
.@JordanCornish5_ AGAIN AND AGAIN!! He's 5-for-5 from beyond the arc!! #UNLVmbb #GeauxJordan https://t.co/3HoE5rPciX— UNLV Basketball (@TheRunninRebels) February 3, 2016
However, even though the Rebels played hard and gave themselves a chance to win the game, there were some glaring issues that could plague the Rebels for the rest of the season, mainly fouling.
With only three scholarship players coming off the bench now, it's going to be imperative that UNLV stays out of foul trouble so that players aren't relegated to the bench for long periods of the game preventing Coach Simon from substituting more freely. The person that this applies to the most is Dwayne Morgan.
Dwayne Morgan, even though undersized will be tasked, with spelling Stephen Zimmerman at the 5 now that Ben Carter is done for the year. He fouled out after playing only seven minutes. If Morgan continues to foul like he has all season this will severely hurt the Rebels, specifically Zimmerman who is now their most important player.
Even though he led the Rebels in scoring, Zimmerman was not nearly as effective during the second half and was not able to be as effective on defense down the stretch because he couldn't risk picking up his 4th foul.
If Morgan can't stay out of foul trouble then Zimmerman will have to play much more conservatively because the Rebels can't afford to lose him for any significant amount of time for any game, especially come March during the Mountain West Tournament.
New Mexico, who is riding a four game conference win streak, travels to play first place San Diego State on Saturday. This will be an intriguing match up pitting two of the top scorers in the conference in Tim Williams and Elijah Brown against one of the top defenses in the league.
UNLV travels to play Fresno State where they will look for redemption after falling to the Bulldogs to open conference play.