Lost in UNLV’s resounding 80-63 thumping of New Mexico on Saturday night at the Thomas & Mack Center was one of the strangest stat lines you’ll ever see.
It belonged to fifth-year senior guard Kendall Wallace, who technically didn’t record a single second of playing time, yet scored two points. He was inserted early in the second half to shoot a pair of free throws following a New Mexico flagrant foul, but then immediately sauntered back to the bench, never to be heard from again.
It’s a big change from two years ago, when Wallace propelled UNLV to a win over the Lobos at The Pit with a career-high 21 points, including seven made 3-pointers.
Then again, a lot has changed for Wallace since the highlight of his 2009-10 season, and the residual effects have played a major role in what has at times been a very frustrating fifth year as a Rebel.
“To be honest, I really didn’t know what to expect,” said Wallace, who sat out last season after suffering a torn ACL in his right knee during the summer months. “I mean, it sucks, but there’s nothing you can do about it. To be honest, I’m just glad to be able to play again. No matter how bad it is this year, it’s nothing compared to how it was last year, having to sit out when we were playing great.”
After the injury delayed Wallace’s senior season, he spent the 2010-11 campaign rehabbing.
Upon returning, though, he said he felt the knee start to wear down some during the start of summer practice and conditioning sessions. Then even more leading up to the team’s first game in November.
“Next thing you know, there’s cartilage missing, so it’s just been kind of up and down,” Wallace said. “And it’s been down lately.”
For a while, Wallace wore a bulkier black knee brace during practices only, then opted for a sleeve over the knee during games, which allowed him to move better and feel more natural on the floor.
On Saturday, he had the standard brace on, and said that will be the case the rest of the season, as it makes him feel stronger while playing and less sore afterwards.
But his signature outside shot is still fine.
At practice, he remains the purest perimeter shooter on the floor. Following Monday’s session at the Cox Pavilion, he spent a few minutes holding a ball at center court, talking one-on-one with first-year coach Dave Rice, who continues to encourage him to do exactly what he’s been doing.
Despite Wallace’s frustrations with a balky right knee that has caused him playing time, he’s still brought plenty to the table.
“Kendall works so hard, and I know he’s frustrated that his knee hasn’t allowed him to be able to do more,” Rice said. “Having said that, I have not lost any confidence in him. I think this is the week I anticipate him getting minutes in these games. I feel like these are games where defense is going to dictate, we’re going to need some guys to come in off the bench and make shots, and Kendall is very capable of that. He’s done it his whole career.
“And there’s a difference there, because he’s been frustrated that he hasn’t gotten more minutes, but he also understands that he’s been a terrific team guy and he’s helped us in so many ways. He’s been a leader for us in the locker room, he’s worked very hard in practice, and he’s done everything that you would expect a fifth-year senior to do.”
UNLV’s two game week coming off of the high that was knocking preseason-Mountain West favorite New Mexico to two games behind San Diego State for first place begins Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Boise State (10-8 overall, 0-3 MWC). From there, the 12th-ranked Rebels (18-3, 2-1) travel to take on Air Force on Saturday afternoon (11-6, 1-2).
Wallace is averaging only 13.5 minutes and 3.3 points per game this season after averaging 19.1 and 6.9, respectively, a year ago.
But Rice said that when he does put Wallace in games, he can still see defenses used to seeing him in previous years pay extra attention to where he’s floating around the perimeter.
He also said that he can see some big moments still ahead this year for Wallace as his basketball career winds down.
Wallace is long overdue for them.
“It’s never easy to deal with, I was used to playing a lot, so it’s never easy to deal with, but it’s definitely helped me a lot more,” Wallace said. “I’m a lot more mature about it than I probably would have been in high school or early on in my career. It’s about the team, I don’t want to be a distraction for the guys, and our team is playing great right now, so I have no complaints and, like I said, whenever he needs me, I’ll be ready.”