Wednesday’s exhibition game against Dixie State was supposed to be a dress rehearsal, and it was. But most fans expected it to be rehearsal for a regular season blowout, not a March Madness upset bid by a 15 seed. The Rebels were pushed to the limit by a very good Dixie State squad, but in the end UNLV made just enough plays to pull out the win.
After every game this season, I’ll be grading the Rebels based on what my eyes tell me as well as what I see on the stat sheet. Let’s take a look at how they performed against Dixie State.
REBEL REPORT CARD
There were some good signs (mostly in the first half), and some really bad signs. The Rebels got into the open floor effectively in the first half, and it resulted in 46.7 percent shooting and 47 points. They scored 10 fast break points and generally resembled the team everyone expects this season. In the second half, however, things slowed down (just four fast break points) and UNLV was not nearly as productive. Playing mostly in the halfcourt, the Rebels committed 14 second-half turnovers (21 for the game) and shot just 25.8 percent as Dixie State came back to force overtime. Mike Moser‘s shot stopped falling, Anthony Marshall couldn’t find driving lanes and the team was forced to shoot too many deep jumpers. If it wasn’t for a tough, tough performance underneath from Quintrell Thomas (14 points), UNLV would have lost this game and sent Rebel Nation into a mini-panic. One of the major questions for this team is if they can shoot well enough to keep teams from packing the lane, and besides Katin Reinhardt (3-for-7 on 3-pointers), the rest of the Rebels shot just 3-for-25 from distance. Someone has to step up in that regard. Marshall had some difficulties in the halfcourt, but he made plays (including an assist on the game-winner) and finished with 16 points and six assists. The assist total could have been over 10 if some outside shots had fallen. Overall, the Rebels showed both sides of the coin. If they can keep the bad stretches to a minimum, this can still be a good offensive team.
Coach Dave Rice was not happy with his team’s defensive effort in the second half, and he made that very clear in his post-game press conference. Three freshmen got starting nods (Reinhardt, Anthony Bennett and Savon Goodman), and they appeared to struggle with team defense, often finding themselves out of place and allowing easy shots for Dixie State. The Rebels especially seemed to struggle when Dixie State pushed the pace and didn’t allow UNLV to swarm. Dixie also exploited the fact that UNLV didn’t have a shot blocker in the middle, as they ran several backdoor plays and outscored the Rebels 39-26 in the paint. This is a team with good individual defenders, but because of the youth and because there will be so many moving parts, it may take some time for things to come together on D. The addition of Khem Birch in December should help with the interior defense, but the Rebels can’t just wait for that to solve everything. Expect the next few days of practice to be heavy on defensive concepts.
Quintrell Thomas came off the bench to save the game for the Rebels. He worked hard underneath and finished with 14 points (8-8 FTs) and 10 rebounds. Justin Hawkins also did his thing, playing good defense (four steals) and facilitating down the stretch (four assists). Both players were on the floor down the stretch and in overtime. Bryce Dejean-Jones didn’t shoot well (0-5 from the field), and he’s obviously still not comfortable with his off-hand, as he wore a brace last night. But Dejean-Jones showed how easily he can penetrate, and court vision was impressive. Depth is one of UNLV’s obvious strengths, and against Dixie State the reserves stepped up and made plays to win the game.
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