There’s a terrific scene in the 1986 basketball classic Hoosiers in which Norman Dale, coach of the Hickory Huskers, gathers his small town team around a basket in a big town arena, the very arena in which his upstart Huskers will be competing for the prestigious Indiana State Championship.
As the awestruck team takes in the overwhelming vastness of the arena, Coach Dale – played wonderfully by the great Gene Hackman – removes a tape measure from his pocket and hands it to one of his players. The coach asks first for the height of the rim.
“Ten feet,” his player replies.
Next, the coach asks his player to measure the distance between the basket and the free throw line.
“Fifteen feet,” the player responds.
Coach Dale takes the tape measure back from his player, returns it to his pocket, and faces his wide eyed team.
“I think you'll find these exact same measurements as our gym back in Hickory.”
That bit of psychology, of course, was used by the coach as a means to make his players feel more comfortable playing away from home. After Wednesday night in Boise, though, it’s a tactic that UNLV coach Dave Rice may want to borrow the next time his Runnin’ Rebels enter enemy territory.
The 12th-ranked Rebels escaped Boise by the skin of an Idaho potato on Wednesday, needing overtime – not to mention a super human performance by under the weather star Mike Moser – to upend Boise State 77-72 in a game that saw UNLV shoot less than 35% from the field.
“A win is a win,” as the saying goes. However, this win, once again, has cast a spotlight on what is surely becoming an increasingly concerning trend for Rice and Company, that being the Rebels inability to shoot the ball well on the road.
At the Thomas and Mack Center – heck, even up the road a ways at the Orleans Arena – the Rebels, more often than not, have been marksmen. In games played in the 702 area code, UNLV shoots better than 50% from the field (.504). From 3-point range, the Rebels have nailed an impressive 41% of its long balls.
Life on the road, however, has been far less kind to UNLV. Away from Vegas, the Rebels have shot it just a shade better than 42% from the floor, including a downright unsightly 31% mark from long range.
In fact, in UNLV’s three losses – road defeats at Wichita State, Wisconsin, and San Diego State – the Rebels have made less than 31% of their 3-point tries, and have shot just 40% overall from the field.
Inside the friendly confines of the Thomas and Mack Center, UNLV has been a veritable buzzsaw, winning all eleven of its games on Tarkanian Court, including a pair of blowout victories over TCU and New Mexico in its first two Mountain West contests.
However, if the Runnin’ Rebels – clearly the favorites to win the Mountain West Conference regular season championship when league play began – hope to turn expectation into reality, and to claim the MWC title, the team must first find that elusive tonic for its shooting ills away from home… and fast.
After surviving Boise State on Wednesday, UNLV jumps right back into the road fire again on Saturday when it travels to Colorado for its annual trip to the dentist disguised as a basketball game against Air Force.
With convincing road wins at New Mexico and Wyoming already in their back pocket, defending league champion San Diego State has proven that it possesses the mental toughness to make shots and to win on the road. If UNLV expects to keep pace with the Aztecs in the Mountain West conference race, the Rebels must prove on Saturday that they can do the same.
No word yet if Coach Rice plans on buying that new tape measure.