For Anthony Marshall and his UNLV teammates, it wasn’t just the fact that the Rebels fell behind early in the Mountain West race when they lost their league opener at San Diego State that bothered them.
“We dropped one at San Diego State for coach (Justin Hutson), and we really wanted to get that one for him,” Marshall said. “We have a chance to redeem ourselves with this one.”
No, the 11th-ranked Rebels (21-3 overall, 5-1 MWC) have to wait another week for a potentially epic rematch with the Aztecs. Instead, they’ll try to deliver a bit of personal satisfaction for another member of Dave Rice’s staff — assistant Heath Schroyer — when they travel to face Wyoming (17-5, 3-3) on Saturday at 1 p.m.
Schroyer was fired 10 games into his fourth season as Wyoming’s head coach early last February, finishing with a record of 45-59 in that stretch. And though he’s going to be politically correct in terms of speaking to the media heading into the first of two regular season meetings with his former employer, deep down, there’s no question he wants this one.
“I think it would mean a ton to him,” Marshall added. “He probably won’t say much, but we’re going to want to go out there and get that one for him.”
If anyone on the current roster would understand that, it’s Marshall, who has made a habit of working on his outside shot after almost every practice this season with Schroyer.
According to both sides, they simply hit it off in terms of a player-coach relationship almost immediately after Schroyer arrived this summer, and their regular practice routine became habit after Marshall struggled in his first game of the season.
Coming into his junior year with lofty expectations, Marshall went 0-for-7 from the floor and never really looked comfortable in a 71-67 win over Nevada-Reno on Nov. 14. That night, he couldn’t shake the performance from his head, and then picked up the phone and called Schroyer.
After talking things out for a bit, they agreed to meet up at the Thomas & Mack Center at 8 a.m. the next morning.
“We worked on some shooting, some rhythm stuff,” Marshall said. “It all started there. We have a terrific coaching staff, but that’s the one guy who, when I have a problem or a concern, I can talk to.”
Added Schroyer: “Our personalities, we’ve been really able to mesh, even from the first time we spent some time together in the office. We’ve been able to have a bond. I think he’s really starting to reach his potential, and that’s really fun to see as a coach.”
Marshall has emerged as one of UNLV’s true go-to guys on the offensive end, and that knack for scoring in a variety of ways will be needed more than ever on Saturday.
Under first-year coach Larry Shyatt, a staple for the Cowboys so far this season has been defense. They have only allowed an opponent to score 60 points or more in three games this season.
On the offensive end, they have been paced by a pair of newcomers who redshirted while on Schroyer’s bench last season — Leonard Washington and Luke Martinez.
Washington — a burly USC transfer — is averaging 13.1 points and 6.5 rebounds per game, but in six Mountain West games, those numbers have bumped to 17.2 and 7.3, respectively.
Martinez was a junior college transfer last year who missed the entire season due to a broken elbow. The 6-foot-4 guard has come back with a bang, averaging 13 points a game and establishing himself as one of the league’s top 3-point threats.
A more unsung hero in the team’s turnaround is senior point guard JayDee Luster, who doesn’t post big numbers, but has cut down on his turnovers from the last two seasons and helped Wyoming control the pace of almost every game it has played.
“I’m really proud of the guys, and seven of the top eight guys in minutes are guys that we recruited, and two of the top eight scorers in the conference are guys that we had sitting out last year,” Schroyer said. “Everyone in the league knew that potential and that Wyoming was going to be good, but I’m happy for the guys and I really wish Wyoming the best … except for two games a year.”
The Rebels last week truly sharpened their teeth, as big early leads faded and required clutch plays on both ends late in regulation and in overtime to escape with must-have wins at Boise State and Air Force. They key, though, was that they continued to find ways to win tight games on the road, which is something several other ranked teams in America this season have struggled to do.
This one figures to be just as close, as Wyoming’s rapidly fading NCAA tournament hopes could get some life pumped back into them with a signature conference win. They already let opportunities to do so against New Mexico and San Diego State slip away on their home floor, and this is likely their best remaining chance at one.
Preparation shouldn’t be a problem, as — surprise, surprise — Schroyer was in charge of scouting the Cowboys for Saturday’s meeting.
And even though he might not show it on the surface, it would be hard to blame him for wanting this one a bit more than your ordinary game.
“Anytime it happens, it’s tough,” he said of his firing. “I’ve learned a lot from it, and it’s one of those things where sometimes the best intentions don’t always turn out the way you want them to. They had the right to do what they saw fit and what they wanted to do, and I have no ill will.”