Utah State has the sixth ranked defense in the country, according to Ken Pom’s adjusted efficiency. So UNLV was going to have a tough time scoring.
But T.J. Otzelberger gave UNLV’s offense a jolt by eliminating Utah State’s best defensive player.
Neemias Queta blocks 14 percent of all opponent shots when he is on the floor. He is the number one rim protector in the Mountain West. So the key for UNLV was to get Queta away from the rim.
Otzelberger’s game plan called for ball screen after ball screen to make Queta defend to the perimeter. But due to Utah State’s drop coverage, Queta hangs back away from the ball screen to prevent any driving layups.
But this opens up a small window to sneak a rolling big man in behind Queta to get to the rim.
After Edoardo Del Cadia screens for Bryce Hamilton, he gets behind Queta as he rolls to the rim. Hamilton hit Del Cadia with a pass. But Utah State’s defense is eager to help in the paint, so Del Cadia does not get a layup. Instead it leads to a Bryce Hamilton three, as the UNLV ball movement beat the Utah State rotation.
Utah State adjusted in the first half and started sending a help side defender to bump the roll man darting to the basket. So Otzleberger took advantage and had shooters creep up to the three-point line to get open looks.
They ran the same play on back to back possessions for back to back threes.
“The first half we did a great job,” T.J. Otzelberger said. “We were able to exploit some things. We were 8 of 16 from three. We got Mbacke some touches behind the defense. I think things were going well. They adjusted, started icing some ball screens and switching some things. They do a great job and they disrupted our rhythm that way.”
As the second half wore on, both team struggled offensively. Ultimately Utah State scored just 0.78 points per possession, their lowest mark of the season.
UNLV is the only team to hold Utah State under 0.80 points per possession the last two seasons, and they have done it twice.
The key to UNLV’s stellar defensive performance, besides Utah State missing shots, was the scouting report.
“You gotta build your defense in such a way that you get the guys that you want taking the shots,” T.J. Otzelberger said of defending Utah State.
Brock Miller is the top shooter for the Aggies. He takes six thee pointers per game and is hitting at 42.7 percent for the season. Thanks to a shutdown effort from Caleb Grill, Miller only attempted three shots from the beyond the arc all game.
Instead UNLV managed to clog up the paint by helping off others, specifically Rollie Worster and Justin Bean.
Worster, a 27.1 percent shooter from beyond the arc, attempted five three pointers in the game. Bean is a career 21.1 percent shooter launched and missed two three pointers in the first half.
UNLV baited Utah State’s worst shooters into shooting and it worked.