UNLV snuck out two wins over Air Force in the regular season, but managed a 28-point beatdown in the third meeting in the Mountain West Tournament.
The biggest difference wasn’t anything UNLV did. Air Force couldn’t make a three.
In the regular season meetings, Air Force knocked down 24 of 53 (45.3%) three pointers against UNLV. On Wednesday afternoon, the Falcons hit just 2 of 18 (11.1%) from deep
UNLV’s defense was better. The Rebels aggressively switched on defense to take away Air Force’s pop out three-pointers. T.J. Otzelberger was pleased with his defense’s intensity and effort.
But a drop off from 45.3 percent to 11.1 percent is not because of the defense. It is simply the sporadic nature of three-point shooting in college basketball.
Just take UNLV’s own David Jenkins as an example. In the final four games of the regular season Jenkins shot 0 of 4 from three in back to back games against Fresno State. Then he hit 7 of 14 threes against San Diego State before finishing off with an 0 of 2 performance against Wyoming.
Three games without making a three against bad defenses with a stellar 7 of 14 performance against the best defense in the conference.
Three-point shooting is random in college basketball. And for UNLV it is the key to pulling off some upsets.
UNLV’s defense is not good. They can’t defend off the dribble or in the post AND crowd three-point shooters. They simply aren’t good enough to stop teams from doing two things. Sometimes they can’t even stop one.
That’s where opponent misses come in. UNLV is about to play Utah State, a team that doesn’t normally shoot a lot of threes. Utah State gets to the rim off the dribble or through Neemias Queta in the post.
If UNLV can over help in the paint like their pack line defense calls for, they might be able to force Utah State’s shots away from the rim and to the three-point line.
That is how they won the first meeting. Utah State took 22 three pointers and made just five in a 59-56 UNLV win. The Aggies scored 0.78 points per possession in that matchup, their lowest of the season.
That is UNLV’s path to victory. Force Utah State into shooting threes, and if they miss, UNLV could be in the Mountain West semifinals.