Monday night wasn’t a game — it was a performance.
Watching the Rebels jump on top of an overmatched Northern Arizona squad and then keep pouring it on for 40 minutes, you got the distinct feeling that there was a message behind it all. After a close call in their lone exhibition game, followed by a week of hand-wringing about effort and defense and press clippings and happy trigger fingers, it looked like the Rebels wanted to bury it all on Monday night.
The result was a terrific performance more in line with the talent on the UNLV roster. Five players scored in double figures, including all three freshmen, and the outcome was never in doubt.
So how did the Rebels grade out after the game? Let’s break it down, report card style.
REBEL REPORT CARD
Unlike the Dixie State game, the Rebels were able to fire up their transition attack and keep up the pace for the full 40 minutes. They finished with 94 possessions and shot 50 percent from the floor — exactly the kind of explosive offense the fans envision when coach Dave Rice talks about “Runnin’ Rebels basketball.” Sure, NAU was overmatched — they started four guards and their tallest player was 6-foot-7 — but give UNLV credit for executing their game plan. It started with Anthony Bennett, who was a guaranteed two points every time he touched the ball in the paint. After a week of talking about the importance of getting the ball in the post, the Rebels followed through and fed Bennett to the tune of 22 points. The team also cut back slightly on the 3-point attempts, trying 27 (and making nine) after jacking up 32 against Dixie State. Anthony Marshall played one of the best games of his career (14 points, 6-6 shooting, six assists, two steals, two turnovers) and Bryce Dejean-Jones made a bid for more minutes by scoring 15 points in 20 smooth minutes. The one stat that keeps this from being an A, or even an A+, is Mike Moser‘s two points. The junior contributed in other ways, but he’ll need to be a consistent force throughout the season in order to UNLV to peak. Following a rough performance against Dixie State, the question of whether his game can mesh with Bennett will come up again. A breakout game against Jacksonville State on Saturday would do wonders for Moser.
Simply put, Northern Arizona couldn’t deal with UNLV’s defensive pressure. The Rebels forced 18 turnovers, with many of those leading to open-court opportunities. The Rebels also controlled the boards (and “controlled” may not be a strong enough word), out-rebounding NAU 51-29. NAU missed 45 shots and grabbed just nine offensive rebounds. And after struggling with transition defense against Dixie State, the Rebels didn’t allow a single fast-break point against NAU. Marshall and fellow senior Justin Hawkins have to get much of the credit there. Hawkins had a sneaky-good game, subtly filling the stat sheet with five points, six rebounds, five assists, two steals and just one turnover. Moser was also a factor, grabbing 11 rebounds and blocking a shot in 24 minutes. For the game, NAU shot just 25.0 percent. It doesn’t get much better than that.
The two reserves who made the biggest impacts were Quintrell Thomas and Dejean-Jones. Before the season started I thought Carlos Lopez-Sosa would be the first big off the bench, but just like in the Dixie game, Thomas made his presence felt around the basket. He’s a bruiser who rebounds and forces contact — including Dixie, he’s attempted 14 free throws and grabbed 17 rebounds in 44 minutes. Combine that with his post defense, which Rice says is the best on the team, and that’s a valuable bench player. Dejean-Jones was instant offense as soon as he stepped on the floor, both off the dribble and with his jump shot. And Savon Goodman brought the energy with 11 points and five boards in 16 minutes. That looks like a solid eight-man rotation to me.
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