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UNLV Rebels head coach Kevin Kruger watches the Rebels play during the second half of an NCAA basketball game against the Southern University Jaguars at the Thomas & Mack Center Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2023.

UNLV made 19 layups and five dunks against Florida State on Monday, as the Seminoles barely pretended to play defense in a matinee game that was contested as part of the Sunshine Slam.

So what does it say about UNLV that it got so many easy baskets and still lost?

It says defense is a major, major problem for Kevin Kruger’s squad, which allowed Florida State to shoot 63.0% in the first half, 62.5% in the second half and 62.7% overall. When FSU was finally finished scoring, the Seminoles had an 83-75 victory and UNLV had its second disappointing loss in a season that is only four games old.

Senior forward Jalen Hill said he and his teammates can’t expect to beat serious opponents while only playing on one end of the court.

“They shot 63 percent,” Hill said. “You’re not going to win games when the other team is shooting 63 percent, even if we shot 58. Too many fouls, too many lobs, too many easy buckets to the right hand.”

If any defense was played, it came in the opening minutes, when FSU utilized a full-court press to force an early flurry of turnovers. That allowed the Seminoles to build a 19-8 lead, and UNLV spent the rest of the afternoon trying to dig out of that hole.

Once the Scarlet and Gray were able to break the press, Florida State offered little resistance. Five UNLV players scored in double figures, led by Kalib Boone’s 15 points off the bench. UNLV shot 56.9% as a team and finished with a 54-46 advantage in points in the paint.

Those are usually the numbers of a winning team, but stops were hard to come by for UNLV. They were especially difficult to secure on key possessions; UNLV cut the deficit to five points on three separate occasions in the second half, and all three times Florida State responded with consecutive buckets to stop the momentum.

The game’s defining moment came after freshman point guard D.J. Thomas converted a layup to bring a surging UNLV within 61-56 with 7:29 remaining. On the ensuing possession, Florida State guard Jamir Watkins came off a screen, dribbled through the middle of the UNLV defense and threw down a vicious tomahawk dunk.

Message delivered.

According to Hill, the scouting report called to cut off right-hand dribble drives, but too often that strategy went out the window and Seminoles guards were able to do whatever they wanted — like the drive and dunk by Watkins.

“Just too many right-hand drives,” Hill said. “All of them are righties and they were getting to the right way too easy. Watkins had a good game. We’ve just got to read the scout better.”

Watkins led Florida State with 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting. Darin Green scored 16 and Cameron Corhen chipped in 14.

UNLV is now 2-2, with the second and final game of the four-team Sunshine Slam set for Tuesday afternoon (the Scarlet and Gray will face the winner of Monday’s matchup between Richmond and Colorado). That gives the team less than 24 hours to figure out their issues on defense or risk returning home under .500.

“We’ve just got to play a full 40 minutes,” Hill said. “In our four games, we’ve played in spurts. We’ve played 30 minutes of a game, but we haven’t had a full 40 minutes where we’ve played front to back.”

Thomas posted 13 points, six assists and six rebounds, while Hill went for 13 points and four rebounds.

Mike Grimala can be reached at 702-948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Mike on Twitter at

Article written by #LasVegasSun

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