It’s one of the games on the schedule that UNLV fans have likely overlooked time and time again, but the Rebels themselves don’t quite have that luxury.
Sandwiched between high-profile non-conference games against Wisconsin and Illinois is Wednesday’s 7 p.m. showdown with UTEP at the Thomas & Mack Center — UNLV’s first game on its home floor since Nov. 22.
The Rebels (9-2) could use a dose of home cooking after looking tired and lifeless in the first 15 minutes on Saturday afternoon in Madison, Wisc. They eventually started to look like themselves during the second half, but couldn’t make up enough ground in a 62-51 defeat. Meanwhile, UTEP (2-4) comes to town off of a somewhat shocking 73-69 upset of New Mexico State.
Here is Wednesday night’s Starting Five …
1) A Marshall bounce-back?
The first thing people look at when checking on a player’s stats is points. That’s just natural.
If you only look at that, the numbers suggest that Anthony Marshall is having a down junior season so far, averaging 8.8 points per game — down from 9.7 a year ago — despite playing five more minutes per outing than he did as a sophomore.
However, in handling more point guard duties than he did before this season, he’s averaging an impressive 5.7 assists per game and doing a good job of keeping himself in control with the ball and avoiding giveaways. He’s also been strong on the defensive end.
But he’s due for a big offensive night, and should be motivated here after having one of the roughest overall performances of his career at Wisconsin. In 27 minutes, Marshall was generally invisible, with two points (off of only four shot attempts), one rebound and two assists. He wasn’t able to find spots to be aggressive on the offensive end as UNLV was sucked into Wisconsin’s style of play, and it clearly had him frustrated.
UTEP likes to go up and down, which plays more into the Rebels’ favor. Add in the fact that Marshall has always played much stronger on his home floor, and this could be a possible turning point for him after a bit of a frustrating start to the season.
2) Since they’ve been gone
Since beating Cal Poly at the Mack on Nov. 22, UNLV has played six games away from its home floor, including three true road contests and three more down the road at the Orleans Arena which, lets face it, has rarely felt like home for the Rebels in the past few years.
Simply taking the floor at the Mack should be a nice elixir for UNLV’s recent case of wear and tear from both the emotional and physical grind of the last month.
To recap: UNLV edged USC in a tough game, then upset No. 1 ranked North Carolina 24 hours later at the Orleans, then had to survive two overtimes at UC Santa Barbara four days later, then lost at Wichita State the following weekend, then got a nice tune-up against Cal State San Marcos, then traveled back to the midwest where Wisconsin feasted on a weary group.
In other words: No walk in the park.
3) An eye on Mike Moser’s wrist
Mike Moser’s sprained right wrist has clearly affected him more in the last two games than he’s wanted to admit.
His two least productive offensive games of the season have come since he hurt it in practice last Tuesday, as he’s gone 5-of-15 from the floor, attempted only one 3-pointer and scored a combined 10 points in that stretch.
One positive is that he’s still rebounding the ball well, grabbing 23 boards in those two games. In practice so far this week, the wrist hasn’t quite looked back to being 100 percent, but his shot looks more fluid after giving it a rest on Sunday, and he might start looking to get a bit more aggressive on the offensive end, which UNLV needs from him. When he was truly clicking, it opened things up for everyone around him.
4) Bellfield also in need of a pick-me-up
Oscar Bellfield has been one of UNLV’s most reliable offensive weapons all year, too, as he and Anthony Marshall have found a nice rhythm in working together in the backcourt.
But his shot hasn’t been falling in the team’s last three games.
Dating back to the loss at Wichita State, he’s 9-of-32 from the floor and 3-of-16 from deep, scoring in single digits in all three games after scoring at least 11 in each of the team’s first eight games.
5) A closer look at UTEP
You know this much going in: UTEP is well-coached.
Second-year coach Tim Floyd, who had successful runs at both Iowa State and USC sandwiched around a stretch with the Chicago Bulls, has his team in a bit of a transition year.
After losing several key pieces off of a team that went 25-10 last season and lost in the first round of the NIT, the Miners are still finding their footing thins season.
They’ve already suffered two ugly losses, falling in their opener to UT San Antonio, 73-64, then suffering an embarrassing home loss to Sephen F. Austin on Nov. 26, 53-35.
However, they’ve shown signs of life lately, playing Oregon to within five points in a road loss on Nov. 29, then defeating New Mexico State — arguably the top team in the WAC — at home on Sunday, 73-69.
A big reason behind the improved play of late is the return of 6-foot-7 senior forward Gabriel McCulley from left leg surgery that sidelined him for the team’s first four games. After struggling in his first game back against Oregon, he had 18 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists against New Mexico State. Expect him to play a major role on Wednesday night.
Another guy to watch for is sophomore guard Michael Perez, who after being a role player for much of the first four games has emerged as an offensive rock of late. He scored 15 points combined in the first four outings, but in UTEP’s last two games, has scored 37 points off of 14-of-25 shooting.