It was exactly the type of tune-up UNLV needed.
In the midst of the roughest terrain on their loaded non-conference schedule, the Rebels got themselves back on track on the heels of their first loss of the year with a 94-50 thrashing of Cal State San Marcos on Wednesday night at the Orleans Arena.
“It was good for us to get back on the floor — There was still a bit of lingering effect from Sunday’s game,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said, referring to the 89-70 loss suffered at Wichita State. “We didn’t do a good job in terms of field goal percentage defense, but we did a good job in terms of turning San Marcos over, and we really did put a premium on trying to guard the basketball, then denying passes that were one pass away.”
The lingering effect kept UNLV (9-1) from pulling away from its NAIA foe until about mid-way through the first half, but that was when a series of strong plays by Chace Stanback and Justin Hawkins on both ends helped the Rebels create some space on the scoreboard.
By halftime, UNLV was up 20, and the second half turned into one big blur.
After only forcing six Wichita State turnovers on Sunday and getting out-rebounded in a game for the first time this season, the Rebels forced 26 giveaways on Wednesday, then limited second-chance opportunities by out-rebounding the Cougars 40-25. Only three of San Marcos’s 25 boards came on the offensive end.
Stanback scored 10 of his 16 points in the first half, while in the second half, Rice and his staff tried to get some more minutes for the guys in the back end of their rotation.
No one benefitted more from the extra run than Hawkins, who scored 23 points, grabbed seven rebounds and recorded five steals in 25 minutes
He provided the same spark off of the bench that he consistently has all season, and his hustle plays helped set up offensive opportunities for several others, including Carlos Lopez, who scored 11 points of his own in 15 minutes.
The night wasn’t filled with much drama, and the UNLV players and coaches shuffled out of the Orleans immediately afterwards to pack for Thursday’s early trip up to Madison, Wisc., where they’ll prepare to take on Wisconsin on Saturday afternoon.
The 14th-ranked Badgers had a tune-up of their own on Wednesday, dispatching of Wisconsin-Green Bay in Madison, 70-42. The Badgers (7-2), will try to do the same thing to the Rebels that Cal Poly, USC and Wichita State tried to already this season — slow it down.
“We’ve had a number of teams that have played a little bit slower on their offensive end,” Rice said. “We need to learn from those games and we need to be really disciplined and patient on the defensive end. We’ll try to force tempo, but we need to be patient. We don’t need to reach and run through passing lanes and then when we get the ball, we need to manage our shot selection and do a good job of playing through our posts.
On top of having a strong home court advantage at the raucous Kohl Center, Wisconsin will also have revenge on its mind from last season’s loss at the Thomas & Mack Center.
As for individuals building momentum going into Saturday, no one may have done more for himself than Hawkins, who last season came up big against the Badgers. He was assigned the job of trying to lock down Wisconsin star point guard Jordan Taylor in the second half, then came up with the game-clinching steal and free throws in the closing seconds.
He’ll likely see plenty of Taylor again this time around.
“He’s definitely the toughest point guard I’ve had to defend,” he said. “You’ve just got to lock in every time. He’s always in attack mode, whether he’s setting up for himself or the rest of his teammates. You’ve just got to lock in and be ready for a battle.”
Moser battling through sprained right wrist
After Wednesday’s game, Rice said that sophomore forward Mike Moser suffered a mild sprained right wrist during Tuesday’s practice.
After the practice, Moser had a wrap around his wrist and the base of his right hand, and he wore it again in Wednesday’s game. He was still able to grab 12 rebounds under 26 minutes, but only scored six points on 3-of-8 shooting.
“Tonight, I just didn’t really feel good, didn’t want to take a lot of jumpers, so I just kind of tried to find other things to do,” he said. “It feels better, even just after this game. We’ll see about tomorrow.
Added Rice: “Mikes a really tough guy, and there’s no doubt that his wrist is bothering him. It’s a situation where he still got a good number of rebounds, but it’s bothering him and affecting his shooting and his aggressiveness. But he’s such a warrior. He’ll fight through it and be available to play.”