UNLV got its three-games-in-six-days stretch started in the ideal fashion on Thursday night, with a 95-70 blowout of Canisius.
It wasn’t just the wide margin on the scoreboard that made it a great start to what will, in reality, be a grueling six-week stretch for the Rebels (3-0). It was how smooth seemingly everything went, as UNLV was 33-of-54 from the floor, recording assists on 28 of those makes.
Sunday’s opponent — Morgan State — presents an entirely different type of challenge than the one Canisius put forth. While Canisius was guard-oriented and bombed away from the perimeter at will, Morgan State will not only be more balanced on the offensive end, but also tougher defensively.
Here now is Sunday’s Starting Five, leading into the Rebels’ 7 p.m. tip with the Bears.
1) Rebounding remains key
Through three games, UNLV is out-rebounding its opponents by an average of six boards per outing. Most importantly, though, is that the Rebels have finally found a dominant rebounding force in sophomore UCLA transfer Mike Moser.
Moser has 40 rebounds in those three games, including 28 on the defensive end. On the other side, Morgan State 6-foot-9 senior Kevin Thompson will give UNLV its biggest individual challenge yet this season on the glass.
Thompson has averaged 9.4 rebounds per game over his career, and limiting second-chance opportunities for him and the rest of the Bears will be key.
2) What ankle sprain?
UNLV sophomore forward Carlos Lopez, who returned earlier than many expected from a severe right ankle sprain, has found a nice niche as an offensive spark off of the bench.
After scoring nine much-needed points against Nevada-Reno last Monday, he scored 10 on 4-of-4 shooting against Canisius. Lopez is showing a lot of confidence right now on offense and, as he’s showed quite a bit last year, can score in many ways. While junior Quintrell Thomas has gotten off to a slow offensive start this season, Lopez has filled that void off of the bench and must continue to do so.
3) An ideal ratio
With Anthony Marshall and Oscar Bellfield splitting point guard duties for UNLV, it’s hard to expect things to consistently go as well for them in the assist-to-turnover ratio department as they did on Thursday.
The two combined for 14 assists as opposed to only two giveaways. Some of that had to do with UNLV finding a nice offensive rhythm, some had to do with Canisius looking out of sorts all night on defense and some was just, well, them playing incredibly well.
It will be interesting to see how that carries over against a Morgan State team that defends much tougher than the Griffins did on Thursday.
4) Looking the part
After a trying offseason and two-game suspension to start the year, Chace Stanback has shown almost no rust in his first two games back for UNLV.
The Rebels’ star senior is averaging 11 points and 5.5 rebounds per game, and looks to be comfortable in his new role as UNLV’s starting small forward. He’s looking to be more aggressive by putting the ball on the floor, but still looks to be in rhythm as a catch-and-shoot threat. He’s 9-of-19 from the floor so far and 3-of-7 from deep.
5) No slouch</p>
Morgan State enters Sunday’s game at 0-2, but don’t let that fool you.
The Bears lost their opener at No. 14 Xavier, 74-63, then fell in their first home tilt to a tough Murray State team, 80-69. But they have a veteran squad that is used to winning under fifth-year coach Todd Bozeman, who has led them to three MEAC regular season championships and a pair of NCAA tournament berths.
Bozeman, of course, had a successful run at Cal from 1992-96 before NCAA violations led to him being out of coaching for eight years.
He’s re-emerged in a big way, and while UNLV should enter as a stiff favorite Sunday night, the Rebels will be in for a fight. Pay particular attention to the Bears’ front court, where Thompson and junior Dewayne Jackson could potentially give the Rebels fits.