Published Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023 | 9:16 p.m.
Updated Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023 | 11:22 p.m.
Isaiah Cottrell tried to put the right words to describe the emotions the last couple of days.
Ultimately, one looming thought overcame him.
“We should’ve won this game,” the redshirt sophomore forward said.
That could’ve been taken into context of UNLV should’ve taken care of business in a winnable game, but ultimately losing 78-75 to Loyola Marymount at The Dollar Loan Center on Saturday.
But there’s also that belief that sports can help a community, or in this case, a university. And the Runnin’ Rebels wanted to win this game, their first time taking the court since the on-campus shooting Wednesday that killed three professors and injured another.
UNLV was in Dayton, Ohio when everything took place. The Runnin’ Rebels were preparing for a road game against Dayton when word surfaced to them two time zones away that something happened. In coordination with Dayton, the game was postponed and a makeup date hasn’t been announced.
Head coach Kevin Kruger opened his postgame press conference talking about the game — how there was a lot of good fight from his group, but the results not matching the effort and how everyone needs to get better — but when talking about what’s transpired over the last 72 hours, he said there’s no real preparation on how to handle something like that.
“Just a sickening thing to see,” Kruger said. “It’s such an unspeakable tragedy, and such a sickening tragedy, that of course the first concern is to make sure the guys are OK.”
Fifth-year senior guard Justin Webster said that there was no excuse for the Runnin’ Rebels to not come back home and “handle business.” Ultimately, UNLV (3-4) lost for the third time in four games and will have its toughest test to date on Wednesday when No. 10 Creighton comes to Las Vegas.
The Rebels had a chance to win at the end. Trailing 76-75 with 10 second remaining, LMU’s Alex Merkviladze missed two free throws and UNLV had a chance at the go-ahead basket. The ball was put in freshman guard Dedan Thomas Jr.’s hands, and deservingly so. He led UNLV with 17 points and eight assists.
Thomas let go of a floater just above the free-throw line but it hit off the front end of the rim.
Cottrell also had 14 points for UNLV, which had four players scoring in double figures while shooting 47% from the floor.
Webster said it was visible that the events from Wednesday impacted practice once the Rebels returned to campus, but the team did a good job staying focused when it came time.
“We said before; this game is nothing more than for the staff members and the university,” he said. “And we just couldn’t get it done tonight.”
Kruger said the important thing going forward is not trying to push the players in remaining mentally ready to play basketball. He’s had conversations with higher-ups from the university about the resources that are in place should his players need them.
Knowing each player has different thought processes on how to handle it, it’s going to be something he’ll navigate carefully.
“Basketball is such a small thing after seeing something like that,” he said.