UNLV already had enough to be motivated by coming into Wednesday’s home meeting with Colorado State, with the most notable source being last year’s embarrassing 15-point home loss to the Rams.
It was a dose of unfortunate news that led the Rebels to focus in a little more en route to a crucial 82-63 victory in front of a crowd of 15,053 at the Thomas & Mack Center.
News of former UNLV coach Charlie Spoonhour passing didn’t reach the team until the afternoon, but Rebels coach Dave Rice heard earlier when he received a phone call from friend and former colleague Jay Spoonhour. The elder Spoonhour, who from 2001 to 2004 helped clean up the program and begin its true resurrection from shambles, was a significant mentor to Rice — an assistant on the UNLV staff during Spoonhour’s brief tenure.
“You could definitely tell from coach that he was going through something,” forward Mike Moser said. “We really didn’t know about Spoonhour until later today, but we definitely played that game for (coach Rice) today.”
The news was not easy for Rice to handle, and before getting to the details of the game in his post game press conference, he shed some light on what Spoonhour meant to him during his long journey towards becoming a head coach.
“My day didn’t start off very well,” he said. “Coach Spoon was obviously someone that was very special in my life. He gave me an opportunity to stay at UNLV, be a part of his staff and to get to know him for three years. As good a coach as he was and as much as I learned from coach Spoon, I learned a lot more about life and how to treat people, and that good people can be successful in this business or any business.”
Before the game, Spoonhour was honored with a moment of silence, and the team wore ‘CS’ patches on the right shoulders of their uniforms.
Then they took care of business.
The 11th-ranked Rebels (21-3 overall, 5-1 Mountain West) started slow, but caught fire from 3-point range early, as their 7-of-13 showing from long range before the half built a 48-35 lead.
Where the game turned for good, however, was after the Rams (14-7, 3-3) ripped off a quick 11-0 run to open the second half, making it a two-point game three minutes in.
“We really came out flat in the second half,” guard Justin Hawkins said. “They were just making their shots, we weren’t making anything on offense. When coach called that timeout, he said it’s time for us to turn it on, because we didn’t want to make this a game like it was becoming.
“We just turned it on, made a nice little run and the rest was history.”
UNLV mostly turned it on on the defensive end, as the Rebels played arguably their best defensive stretch of basketball of the season to close out the Rams. After the initial run to open the half, Colorado State was just 7-of-23 from the floor the rest of the way with five turnovers, hardly managing to work itself into open looks.
“It’s a credit to our guys,” Rice said. “For whatever reason, so much energy to end the first half, and sometimes you wish you didn’t have to go in at halftime, because we started playing well.”
In the end, UNLV was able to close out the second half just like it did the first, keeping pace atop the Mountain West standings with San Diego State, who survived a home scare against Boise State, prevailing 58-56. UNLV will try to at least stay in that spot yet again on Saturday afternoon when it travels to face Wyoming.
The Rebels were 30-of-60 from the floor on the night, recording 24 assists on those made buckets across from only 10 turnovers.
Chace Stanback and Oscar Bellfield each led the way with 16 points. Stanback bounced back from a horrific offensive outing on Saturday by going 5-of-11 from the floor, while Bellfield’s recent surge out of a shooting slump continued with a 6-of-13 showing. He was 4-of-8 from deep and had six assists in 33 minutes played.
Mike Moser and Anthony Marshall each chipped in with 13 points. Moser finished two rebounds shy of his 13th double-double of the season, and Marshall had seven assists of his own.
The entire night, in a way, was a fitting tribute to the man who laid the groundwork for much of UNLV’s current success.
“We cherished the moment of silence for him, and we just came out and played hard,” Bellfield said. “Because you never know when you’re not gonna be here.”
Differing DNPs for Wallace, Mashour
Both senior guard Kendall Wallace and sophomore wing Karam Mashour did not play on Wednesday night, but for very different reasons.
Wallace, who has dealt with a cartilage issue in his right knee all season since returning from last season’s torn ACL, opted to rest, with his knee not feeling up to snuff. He played 17 combined minutes in last week’s two overtime wins, and should be available again come Saturday.
As for Mashour, his ‘Did Not Play’ on the box score had nothing to do with his health.
Rice attempted to give Mashour some run in the closing minutes, but, according to Rice, the 6-foot-6 reserve essentially said no thanks after first heading up to the scorer’s table.
It was an intriguing sign from Mashour, who is one of the team’s hardest workers day in and day out on the practice floor, but has been mostly frustrated this season as he hasn’t been able to crack the team’s regular rotation. It’s understandable, though prying minutes away from anyone ahead of him, given the team’s consistent performance, is not easy. Most of his playing time has come in mop-up duty late in lopsided wins. On the season, he’s appeared in 12 of the team’s 24 games, averaging 3.3 minutes per appearance.
Also back on Saturday should be sophomore power forward Carlos Lopez, who missed his second straight game on Wednesday with a sprained right ankle.