Despite an opening night flop, UNR presents UNLV with a tough test

It’s a rivalry that for the last five years hasn’t really been much of one.

The in-state series between UNLV and Nevada-Reno has been completely one-sided the last five years. If UNR is going to change that trend on Monday night, it will take a performance that is the complete opposite of what it showed Friday night in a season-opening stunner.

While the short-handed Rebels (1-0) were dispatching Grand Canyon with relative ease, the Wolf Pack suffered a 68-46 loss at home to Missouri State, who returned just one starter from a year ago.

The two will tangle at 7 p.m. at the Thomas & Mack Center, with UNLV listed as a 14-point favorite. But this game has the potential to be as close as they come.

Here’s a closer look, with Monday’s Starting Five.

1) Back to normal

It’s still not the 11-man rotation Dave Rice will have at his disposal come mid-December, but for now, nine available scholarship players is better than seven.

Seven was enough to take care of a Division II foe on Friday night, but senior Chace Stanback and junior Anthony Marshall are returning from suspensions just in time, as UNLV is welcoming a relatively deep UNR squad to town.

Marshall had 14 points, 11 rebounds and five assists in the Rebels’ exhibition victory over Washburn Nov. 1 and while having his leadership back on Monday will help, it’s his defensive prowess that could prove to be more valuable than anything. He’ll likely see plenty of time on Wolf Pack star sophomore point guard Deonte Burton.

Stanback, of course, is the Rebels’ top returning scorer. His ability to score at will from the perimeter should help sophomore Mike Moser’s offense develop somewhat, too.

2) Can Moser keep up his Mr. Clean act?

Look, no one is expecting the UCLA transfer to grab 20 rebounds a game. But 29 combined against Washburn and Grand Canyon — two D II opponents, mind you — is a good sign of things to come.

Offensively, he combined to score 30 points in those two games, but still doesn’t look entirely comfortable on that end of the floor, and is forcing things at time.

While he figures that out, his rebounding must remain strong, and this will be a true test for the UNLV bigs on the glass. UNR’s Dario Hunt and Olek Czyz averaged a combined 15.4 boards per game a year ago.

3) Bellfield’s favorite foe?

Senior point guard Oscar Bellfield had a quiet 12-point, 6-assist performance against Grand Canyon, but nothing he’s done in three career meetings against UNR has been silent.

In three career games against the Wolf Pack, he’s averaged 21 points per outing and is 10-of-13 from 3-point range. It could be completely coincidental, sure. But those blue uniforms across from him could be a welcomed site, especially on the offensive end, as he’s just 5-of-18 from the floor in UNLV’s first two outings.

4) UNLV’s x-factor

The guy to watch for might be junior forward Quintrell Thomas, who overcame a slow start against Grand Canyon, had a big second half and finished the night with 12 points and seven rebounds.

After that, Thomas had one of his most solid practices of the season on Sunday afternoon at the Mack, as he’s truly beginning to find his rhythm on offense within Rice’s system.

The coaching staff appears to be quite pleased with his progress of late, and with Carlos Lopez still out with a sprained right ankle, Thomas looks like he’ll continue to be rewarded with big minutes.

5) Looking closer at UNR

Friday’s 68-46 loss in Reno to Missouri State was nothing short of utterly shocking.

The Wolf Pack was selected as the preseason favorite in the WAC this season, and it was with good reason. With all five starters returning from a team that finished strong a year ago, the table appeared to be set for a big year.

Of course, one loss is hardly crippling, and after Monday’s game at the Mack, the schedule opens up quite a bit for UNR.

Burton showed tons of promise last year at the point, but what makes the Wolf Pack so tough to match up with is its size. In Hunt, Czyz and Jerry Evans, UNR features three starters who stand at least 6-foot-7, and they’re all versatile. Also worth watching out for is 6-foot-9 reserve Kevin Panzer, who had a team-high 10 points on Friday.

If UNR plays like its capable of, this could — and, in reality, should — be a close, wildly-entertaining game.