UNLV gets back to business with interim coach

Jan 12, 2016 - 1:33 AM LAS VEGAS (AP) UNLV interim coach Todd Simon wanted to make sure the Runnin' Rebels got right back to work.

''It's hard to get back to normalcy as soon as you can,'' said Simon, less than 24 hours after taking over for Dave Rice. ''The best thing we can do is really focus on the next thing. I think with this generation of kid that's what you do, you focus on the immediate thing.''

The Rebels have underachieved three games into Mountain West Conference play. They next play Tuesday night at home against New Mexico, a team that has surprised some with its hot start.

UNLV (9-7, 0-3) has lost its first three conference games by a combined six points and has lost five of its last six overall.

It was the way the Rebels were losing that led to what the school labeled a resignation, but athletic director Tina Kunzer-Murphy said: ''We mutually agreed for him to step aside. I felt we needed to make a change. We expect to win here.''

Either way, Rice is out and the Rebels have to focus on New Mexico (10-6, 3-0), who bring one of the league's top-performing defenses into the always tough Thomas and Mack Center.

The Lobos lead the Mountain West in field goal defense in conference play (37.8 percent), 3-point field goal defense in Mountain West action (17.7) and steals per game with 9.7 per contest against league foes.

Simon said he is certain the Rebels believe they have a lot of life left for this season and can make a run at the regular-season championship, and eventually in the conference tournament, which is held in Las Vegas.

''That's been the whole message, that we gotta believe, and there's no reason not to,'' Simon said. ''We are the same team that's been successful. We are the same team that's led Oregon and Indiana wire-to-wire. We are the same team that's gotten huge leads.

''Now, we can't be the team that's had some of those errors that's given those leads away,'' he said.

Thus, the biggest question heading into Tuesday night's game is if the Runnin' Rebels can survive the quick turnaround, new leadership and two practices under Simon's watch.

''Obviously we were a little down with what went on yesterday, but we know what we're here to do,'' senior guard Ike Nwamu said. ''We're here to do something special and we know there's plenty of time to still do it, so we're all just trying to stay together. Right now we're just focused on New Mexico and moving forward.

Simon said many of the problems he's seen with UNLV have been mental, and are easily fixable by reinstalling the same confidence the team had when it knocked off then-No.13 Indiana on Nov. 25 and then-No. 15 Oregon on Dec. 4.

''The brand of basketball isn't because of character flaws or selfishness. Sometimes it's because of over-trying,''' Simon said. ''This much talent doesn't come through these doors very often. If we can put it all together and get everyone going in the same direction and everyone feeling good a little bit, this can become a little more fun for these guys.

''We've got to put the work in so that those little things that have become big things for us get corrected,'' Simon said. ''And I think if we put that work in and we get things going a little bit, we'll feel a little freer, we'll feel a little more energized and I think everything else will fall into place.''

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