UNLV guard Anthony Marshall takes to Twitter after just about every game he plays, but the tone last January after his team suffered a stunning 15-point home loss to Colorado State was different than usual.
“I went on Twitter and apologized to the fans, because I really felt like we didn’t represent the university well that night,” he recalled. “To hear the boos from the crowd as you’re walking off, that’s something you never want to experience. That stuck with me.”
The 11th-ranked Rebels (20-3 overall, 4-1 Mountain West) can’t change the past, but they can keep last year’s embarrassment at the Thomas & Mack Center from becoming a trend when they host Colorado State (14-6, 3-2) on Wednesday night for a 7:30 p.m. tip.
The Rams come to Las Vegas after doing UNLV a major favor on Saturday, as they slammed San Diego State in Fort Collins, Colo., 77-60. That opened the door for the Rebels to tie the Aztecs atop the Mountain West standings, which they did with a gritty 65-63 overtime triumph over Air Force later in the day.
“They played a great game against San Diego State, they’re a tough team and you can’t look past them,” forward Chace Stanback said. “They shoot the ball really well, so that’s something we really have to challenge them to do.”
That was the focus for the better part of the team’s first practice back from the Air Force game on Monday, as the scout team was set up to simulate Colorado State’s smaller, shooter-heavy lineup.
It’s quite the difference from a CSU team a year ago that had two quality interior presences in seniors Andy Ogide and Travis Franklin. Those two ate UNLV up in the meeting at the Mack a year ago, combining to score 42 of the Rams’ 78 points while also grabbing 16 rebounds.
This season, the Rams are playing at a faster tempo, and heavily relying on the 3-point shot to do their offensive damage. Not only is their 41.9 percent 3-point shooting as a team tops in the Mountain West, but it’s tied for fourth in the country with Murray State. The backcourt quartet of Wes Eikmeier, Dorian Green, Kaipo Sabas and Jesse Carr have hit 100 of the team’s 125 treys, and combined, bury an average of five per game.
Up front, 6-foot-6 veterans Greg Smith and Will Bell have stepped up admirably to fill the holes left by Ogide and Franklin graduating, and UNLV coach Dave Rice went as far as to call Bell the most improved player in the Mountain West this season.
Even after losing their entire front court, the Rams are again thriving under highly regarded fifth-year coach Tim Miles, who took the program from 0-16 in league play in his first season, to the NIT last season and likely back to a respectable postseason berth this season.
No coach in the Mountain West has squeezed more out of his roster over the last three seasons quite like he has.
“I think the impressive thing to me is coach Miles has done it his way and been extremely patient,” Rice said. “Certainly, they had the 0-16 conference season, and to see how good they are now, it speaks to the way he and his staff have built it. He’s got his guys in place, and they play the way he wants them to play, and that’s always a credit to a coach and his staff.”
One of Miles’s unique quirks is that he tweets a quick thought at halftime of every one of his team’s games.
If UNLV has its way, the tweet on Wednesday will resemble Miles’s “Play with some pride!” post from halftime of his team’s 33-point loss at New Mexico last Wednesday.
Starting games well wasn’t the problem for UNLV last week. They held 12-0 and 17-8 leads early on against Boise State and Air Force, respectively, only to see both advantages crumble and need to be salvaged with key plays late in regulation and in overtime.
Marshall and Stanback are two individuals who know that their play from a week ago must improve if UNLV is not only going to get up early on CSU, but also keep them at least at arm’s length the entire night.
After averaging 22 points, 6.3 assists and 6.3 rebounds in UNLV’s first three Mountain West games, Marshall tallied only 13 points off of 4-of-19 shooting in last week’s two games combined, adding nine rebounds, five assists and eight turnovers. However, he’s been as strong of a player on the Thomas & Mack floor as anyone on the roster this season, and the uptempo pace this game will likely feature favors him.
As for Stanback, two key defensive plays in overtime somewhat salvaged what was one of the worst individual performances in his UNLV career on Saturday. He provided some offensive punch at Boise State, but at Air Force was 1-of-10 from the floor, 0-for-5 from long range and looked generally uncomfortable for much of the evening. At times, he tried to do too much off of the bounce, and even during a drill on Monday, teammate Mike Moser pointed out to him during one play that he was dribbling himself into contested shots after passing up open looks on the perimeter.
Like Marshall, though, Stanback’s offensive game has benefitted greatly from the Mack’s friendly confines. On the season, he’s shooting 48 percent from the floor and 45.9 from long range, but at home, those numbers spike to 57.7 and 61.2, respectively.
“They were good looks,” Stanback said of his outside shots last week. “I know I can make those shots. If the opportunity presents itself, I know I’ll make them next time.
“(Last week) took a toll on us physically and mentally. Two overtime games, both teams came out aggressive from the start.”
UNLV should expect nothing less from Colorado State, who somewhat revived its fading hopes for its first NCAA tournament berth since 2002 by grabbing its first marquee win of the season on Saturday.
The Rebels have last season’s home meeting with the Rams still as a reminder of how dangerous they can be, no matter the personnel.
“They played a recap (of last year’s game) on The Mtn. a lot, with commentary from coach Miles and his assistants, so I’ve had a couple of chances to watch that,” Marshall said. “I remember them coming in, being ready from the get-go, taking on the personality of coach Miles, who’s a fierce competitor.”
UNLV injury updates
• Mike Moser, who despite a bout with the flu posted 45 points, 33 rebounds and grabbed Mountain West Player of the Week honors last week, improved greatly on Sunday and is back to full strength.
• Carlos Lopez suffered a sprained right ankle last Wednesday at Boise State and missed Saturday’s game at Air Force. Rice said that the sophomore forward will not play against Colorado State, but is likely to return Saturday at Wyoming.