For UNLV, it’s finally a break, of sorts.
It’s not the fact that Wednesday night’s opponent at the Orleans Arena — Cal State San Marcos — is from the NAIA ranks and in its first year of existence as a program that provides a sigh of relief.
It’s the fact that the game is being played in Las Vegas.
The Rebels (8-1) still have to wait another week until playing back at the Thomas & Mack Center, but Wednesday’s trip down Tropicana comes after a wild week. Following the team’s stunning 90-80 upset of then-No. 1 North Carolina, they survived a wild double-overtime thriller at UC Santa Barbara, then had their undefeated bubble popped at Wichita State on Sunday.
As the recharged Rebels look to work their way back into a winning groove, here’s a look at Wednesday night’s Starting Five …
1) Defending … again
Sunday’s loss in Wichita was UNLV’s most porous defensive effort of the season, and combined with the Shockers playing with extra crisp ball movement on the offensive end, it was a disaster for the Rebels.
Against an NAIA foe, if the Rebels show up mentally on the defensive end, they should be able to dominate the Cougars’ backcourt.
That, according to the players, was where they let up heading into Sunday’s game. They were physically drained from the previous week, and it may have affected their mental state.
“They just out-fought us,” senior guard Oscar Bellfield said. “We didn’t prepare ourselves to just get after them how we should. It’s definitely frustrating, knowing what we’re capable of doing and not executing it. It’s just a learning experience, something we have to learn from and try not to let it happen again.”
If the Rebels force turnovers like they normally do, they should get plenty of those easy transition points. After forcing more than 16 turnovers per game in their first eight outings, they forced only six against the Shockers and scored only two fast-break points.
2) Moser’s mojo
Mike Moser’s first ugly outing of the season is now in the rear-view mirror, so how does he respond?
Moser is averaging 16.9 points and 12.6 rebounds a game, but Wichita State had him scouted beautifully. Especially on the glass. Almost every time a shot went up, they were conscious of his presence on the court, then double-teamed him, limiting his effectiveness, mostly on the offensive boards.
He’ll be trying to climb another hurdle on Wednesday, after banging up his right wrist/hand slightly in Tuesday afternoon’s practice. He finished practice with a wrap around the base of his thumb and his wrist, then took a series of shots to get used to playing with it.
3) Back to the boards as a whole
It wasn’t just Moser who struggled on the glass in Wichita, as UNLV was out-rebounded as a team for the first time in nine games this season.
This is a spot where building some momentum back up in that department will be key, as their next game — at Wisconsin on Saturday — is one in which rebounding prowess on both ends could again be a major factor on the scoreboard against a ball-control team.
4) A chance to clear the bench more
If UNLV does come out swinging and is able to build a comfortable lead, this could be a golden opportunity for Dave Rice and his staff to get a few of the lesser-used reserves some additional minutes.
Senior guard Kendall Wallace has had his minutes cut down a bit of late, but the guy many want to see get some extra run is junior forward Quintrell Thomas.
Thomas has had a tough time fitting into Rice’s system, and right now is just in a general funk. UNLV could use a break-out performance from him to get him on a bit of a roll, as he could be needed during another tough stretch of upcoming non-conference games. Of UNLV’s nine regular rotation guys, he’s at the bottom of the totem pole in terms of minutes at 11.9 per game.
This could also be a chance for sophomore swingman Karam Mashour to see some extended time.
5) About Cal State San Marcos
The first-year program picked a well-known West Coast coach to lead the program in Jim Saia. He has a five-year head coaching record of 146-58, having coached at Fresno Pacific for three years before starting up the program, and was a long-time UCLA assistant in the mid- to late-1990s.
The Cougars’ roster includes four seniors, seven juniors and one freshman, giving them a dose of veteran experience while starting a team from scratch.
The school has applied to compete in the NCAA Division-II ranks beyond this season, but at the time are testing themselves as much as possible. The game against UNLV is an exhibition contest for the Cougars, while they also already played San Diego State and will play BYU later this month.
They could come to Las Vegas as a pretty tired team, as they’ll be fresh off of a game played at home on Tuesday night before traveling to town.