Give Dave Rice credit. Things couldn’t have been going much worse Tuesday night in the first half of his debut as a Division I college basketball head coach. His UNLV team needed a GPS device to find the basket against Division II Washburn, making just four of its 23 shots, and for more than 13 minutes, it didn’t make anything other than a free throw.
Rice had preached a run-and-gun approach since his introduction as coach, yet his team was performing like a teenage driver trying to get used to a clutch, stopping and starting on its way to 11 turnovers before halftime. But he never lost the suit jacket. Not even as his Rebels went into the break down, 21-20. He shed it for the second half, where UNLV pulled away down the stretch for a 58-50 victory before an announced crowd of 9,619 at the Thomas & Mack Center. But the early show of composure in Rice’s coaching debut was impressive, even if his team’s showing wasn’t.
Rice has stated a desire to have junior guard Anthony Marshall accept more responsibility on the court, including minutes running the offense, but it took the Mojave High School graduate most of the game to get going. Marshall scored 12 of his 14 points in the second half, and also finished with a game-high 11 rebounds, four assists and four steals.
UCLA transfer Mike Moser showed his versatility if not his accuracy in his Rebel debut, scoring 14 points on 4-for-13 shooting and grabbing nine rebounds. He assumed some of the duties
normally held by senior forward Chace Stanback, the Rebels’ leading returning scorer, who was suspended for the exhibition and the season opener after pleading guilty in September to driving under the influence of marijuana. Once Stanback and Moser get on the floor together, UNLV should have a much different look offensively.
Senior guard Kendall Wallace, who missed all of last season with a right knee injury, received a warm welcome from the Thomas & Mack crowd when he entered the game with 15:38 left in the first half. Wallace is expected to improve UNLV’s long-range shooting this year, but he scored just three points (all on free throws) in 23 minutes, missing all three of his shots from the field, including two from 3-point range. The Rebels didn’t hit a 3-pointer until Marshall connected with 17:28 left in the game, and finished just 2-for-18 overall, including 0-for-8 in the first half.
One of the biggest criticisms of coach Lon Kruger last season was his refusal to pair up any combination of big men Brice Massamba, Quintrell Thomas and Carlos Lopez. Rice, however, used Lopez briefly in the first half alongside Massamba, who started at center, and paired Lopez with Thomas midway through the second. The trio had mixed results. Thomas pulled down eight rebounds in 16 minutes, but Lopez and Massamba combined to grab just one rebound in 31 minutes. Lopez was active otherwise, scoring 11 points in 15 minutes, including three straight baskets to help the Rebels take control late, while Massamba sat on the bench for the final 14 minutes of the game.