Slow. It. Down.
That’s exactly what Cal Poly will be looking to do to UNLV on Tuesday night when the two meet in a 7:30 p.m. contest at the Thomas & Mack Center.
While the Rebels (4-0) have scored at least 90 points in back-to-back games for the first time since late in the 2003-04 season, the Mustangs (2-1) turned some heads on Saturday night in defeating Southern Cal by the odd final score of 42-36.
It will be a true battle of styles and tempos come Tuesday, with this being UNLV’s final test before a big weekend at the Orleans Arena. Here’s a closer look at the meeting with the Starting Five …
1) It’s all about pace
Cal Poly wins by limiting opponents’ possessions and, if it can do that, limiting good looks at the bucket.
So far, it’s worked like a charm.
In their first three games, the Mustangs are allowing opponents to shoot at a 38 percent clip, and those foes have only taken 43 shots per game. Meanwhile, UNLV is shooting 50 percent from the floor and averaging 62 shots.
Morgan State tried to slow UNLV down, too, but Cal Poly has better perimeter defenders with which to do so. With more to offer in the backcourt, the Mustangs will also run plenty of flex offense, which is designed to milk the shot clock as often as possible and frustrate opponents. UNLV’s perimeter defense and defensive rebounding will be key again in combating this.
2) How long can the dominance continue?
With defensive rebounding being a must for UNLV on Tuesday night, it’s obvious that sophomore Mike Moser must remain dominant in that realm.
Through four games, he’s leading the nation in rebounding at 14.3 per game, with 68.4 percent of those coming on the defensive end.
It goes beyond Moser’s strong 6-foot-8 frame, his quick leaping ability and his knack for the ball’s path off of the rim in what makes him so successful on the boards. It’s his desire to grab every loose ball possible, which he showed in the closing minutes of Sunday’s blowout of Morgan State, snatching a defensive board away from teammate Justin Hawkins for no reason other than wanting it.
As long as Moser is playing with that desire on the glass, all that guys such as Chace Stanback, Carlos Lopez, Quintrell Thomas and Brice Massamba have to do is contribute.
3) Continuing to share, too
What’s made UNLV’s up-tempo offense evolve so quickly has been the general sense of unselfishness among all of its parts.
UNLV leads the nation in assists per game at 23.3 per game, and that type of ball movement has led to improved shooting. The Rebels are not having to force contested shots, and making the extra pass regularly has led to more open, high-percentage looks.
Against a pressure defense such as Cal Poly’s, penetration from the perimeter by guys such as Moser and Anthony Marshall will be vital, as will a continued effort to work the offense through the post.
4) Rebel To Watch: Hawkins rested and ready
Hawkins led UNLV in scoring through the team’s first three games, but played only 17 minutes on Sunday against Morgan State.
After playing an abnormally large amount of minutes in the first three contests, he should be fresh for another potentially big night against Cal Poly. He’ll be the under-the-radar Rebel to watch against the Mustangs.
Despite not getting big minutes the other night, the confidence he showed in the first three outings carried over, which was more important than anything.
5) Who to watch on the other side
For the Mustangs, 6-foot-7 senior Will Taylor needs to have a better night up front than Morgan State’s bigs had in terms of keeping UNLV off the boards. He won’t be able to do it by himself, but he simply has to be a force.
So far this season, Taylor is tied for the team lead with 11 points per game, and leads the way with eight rebounds a contest.
Cal Poly doesn’t have a ton of size at its disposal, so Taylor will be carrying quite a bit of responsibility.