Had UNLV indulged too much in everything Honolulu has to offer in its 48-plus hours on the island before Saturday’s tip-off against Hawaii, Dave Rice fully admits that his team might not have survived.
The Rebels held off the Warriors despite several furious rallies in the second half and rung in the new year with a 74-69 victory at the Stan Sheriff Center.
“If we’d been out too much, we wouldn’t have had the energy and stamina to get through what we had to do,” Rice said. “We were prepared for the physical challenge that it was going to be. Our guys are experienced in terms of understanding when you go on the road against a team that’s playing well, just how hard that can be.
“I think the road games we played, the time we’ve spent out of our building, helped us in this one, especially when we struggled in the first half offensively.”
After scoring 124 points in a rout of Central Arkansas on Wednesday — its highest single-game output since Dec. 1991 — the UNLV (15-2) offense hit the skids in an ugly first half at Hawaii (8-6). The Rebels led at the break, 35-28, but were just 14-of-37 from the floor, 2-of-11 from 3-point range and couldn’t find any consistent rhythm.
Chace Stanback, who has been UNLV’s hottest shooter of late, was 5-of-6 before the half, but after the break, Hawaii’s defense began focusing on denying him the ball.
Enter Anthony Marshall.
“I kind of read that they were sitting on our shooters,” Marshall said. “We forced up a lot of outside shots instead of getting into the lane and creating for others. In the second half, we made that adjustment. He ran some plays for us to create some space.
“They were doubling down on Oscar (Bellfield) and Chace. I thought I could get into the lane and make some things happen.”
He made more than a few happen, too. Marshall used his quick first step and athleticism to get to the rack for a series of easy scores, then started finding his range with his mid-range jumper. In the end, he had a game-high 19 points to go with 13 rebounds.
Several of those buckets came in a key stretch late in the second half where he was providing the answers for every Hawaii spurt.
“We wanted to give Anthony space to play,” Rice said. “Really, it was just more of what our team is about that we’re going to play offense based on what the defense gives us.”
That was the biggest takeaway from this one.
What’s making UNLV so dangerous right now is that, as a team, it has the ability to be a chameleon.
In the second half, the Rebels moved away from the outside shot with Stanback being denied. Along with Marshall getting more active in the vacant lanes, Mike Moser and Quintrell Thomas had several opportunities to get to work underneath the basket.
Hawaii had trouble scoring from the perimeter, too, and threw down the challenge early in the second half when it started working through Joston Thomas and Vander Joaquim in the interior. UNLV simply adapted and was able to strike back effectively, thus keeping the quickly-improving Warriors at arm’s length.
“The thing about our team is it’s hard to prepare for us because we have so many guys we play and so many guys who score the ball in different ways,” Rice said.
Moser was consistent throughout, finishing with 15 points and 12 rebounds. He also had a key stretch mid-way through the second half when he played several productive minutes with three fouls. Stanback was the only other Rebel in double-digits with 13 points. Despite a huge first half, his biggest shot was a 3-pointer with 2:14 in regulation that ultimately buried Hawaii — it was his only make in the second half.
On the other side, Joaquim and Thomas combined for 31 points and 21 rebounds, but the Warriors had trouble getting consistent scoring from their perimeter players. Their four key guards — Zane Johnson, Jeremiah Ostrowski, Trevor Wiseman and Shaquille Stokes — were a combined 6-of-26 from the floor.
It could be argued that, despite having played at Wisconsin, Illinois and Wichita State, this was UNLV’s toughest road trip of the season. For the two days before the game, the players were not given any restrictions on what they could do, but were simply given curfews at night, which Rice said were adhered to. It also helped, according to Marshall, who dubbed it as the ‘Paradise Trap,’ that since several members of UNLV’s rotation were on the team that played in Honolulu in the Diamond Head Classic two years ago, they knew how to focus for this trip.
The non-conference season now boils down to one more strange road trip, and that comes Thursday when they play at Cal State Bakersfield. The team will then have eight full days before opening Mountain West play on Jan. 14 at No. 25 San Diego State.
• Senior center Brice Massamba was helped off of the floor mid-way through the second half after taking an accidental elbow to the face from Joaquim. He did not return to the game, but Rice said after the game that Massamba was coherent and knew where he was. He’ll fly back with the team and will be evaluated moving forward on a day-to-day basis.
• The team flew back on a red-eye flight not long after Saturday’s game, and was set to arrive back in town at 7 a.m. local time on Sunday morning. Rice said that the team will get Sunday and Monday off before returning to practice on Tuesday.