It was just what Rebels coach Dave Rice had been waiting so patiently for.
It wasn’t that any of UNLV’s three centers had been playing poorly, it’s just that none of them had come to the forefront. That was until Tuesday night when senior Brice Massamba, who started all five games for the Rebels, asserted himself on both ends of the floor.
He snatched nine rebounds, nearly matching his total of 10 from the first four games, and scored 10 points. Especially notable was the fact that Rice trusted the big man from Sweden so much on the offensive end that the Rebels were actually running some plays through him.
If it wasn’t Massamba’s best game in four years as a Rebel, it was right up there. It definitely got his teammates’ attention.
“Brice has a lot of potential,” said fellow senior Oscar Bellfield, who is in his fourth season playing with Massamba. “He was out there feeling comfortable. The key was to go inside and let him make plays. That’s what we did. We worked inside-outside and things opened up for us.
“It’s confidence. That’s all it is. It takes one game like this to build his confidence, and hopefully he keeps it up.”
Massamba’s abilities have never been in question since his arrival from Findlay Prep. He’s always had a good feel for the game and is one of the Rebels’ top playmakers in the paint. It’s been inconsistency that has haunted him, and his rebounding prowess has often left a lot to be desired.
On Tuesday, though, he put everything together and was rewarded with a season-high 25 minutes of play, which limited fellow post players Quintrell Thomas and Carlos Lopez to just seven minutes apiece.
“Brice Massamba was terrific tonight,” Rice said. “Oftentimes (the rotation) is just a feel thing for me, sometimes it’s not what a guy isn’t doing, but what a guy is doing. We can really facilitate our offense through Brice Massamba, particularly the way Cal Poly was playing.”
It’s a good time for Massamba to get his confidence going. With UNLV about to face imposing frontcourts from both USC and, the Rebels hope, North Carolina this weekend, Rice is going to need every bit of production that Massamba can muster.