UNLV seemed to turn a corner in its win over Iowa State, and the Rebels used a similar blueprint in beating UC-Irvine, 85-57 on Wednesday at the Thomas & Mack Center.
The Rebels are now 4-1 on the season, and they seem to be trending upward again. How did they do it against Irvine? Let’s get some instant analysis with a “Fast Breakdown.”
Big game for big men
Coming into the season, there were legitimate questions about how well Mike Moser and Anthony Bennett would be able to play together. Would there be enough touches to go around? Could they both be effective at the same time? And so on. Consider those queries answered for now, as the duo dominated in tandem for the second straight game. Moser posted 19 points and nine rebounds, while Bennett poured in 19 of his own and grabbed six boards. UC-Irvine had no answer for either, besides sending them to the free throw line (15-of-19 combined from the stripe). This game plan of working the ball inside to Moser and Bennett seems to be working for the Rebels.
In terms of taking care of the ball, this was the Rebels’ best performance of the season. They turned it over just seven times, which allowed them to overcome a so-so shooting performance (42.9 percent) and still put up 85 points. They also racked up assists on 22 of their 27 field goals. Anthony Marshall was key to that effort, as he consistently found cracks in UC-Irvine’s halfcourt defense and carved up the Anteaters to the tune of nine assists and just one turnover. For the game, UNLV was plus-8 in the turnover column. “From an offensive efficiency standpoint, it was the best game that we have played,” said coach Dave Rice.
After shaky rebounding performances against Oregon and Iowa State, Rice wanted the Rebels to re-commit to banging the boards. Mission accomplished, as UNLV out-rebounded UC-Irvine 44-39. The Rebels also pulled down 21 offensive rebounds, compared to 17 for the Anteaters. Moser and Bennett did the bulk of the work, but it was a team-wide effort. After the game Rice praised the small forward tandem of Bryce Dejean-Jones and Savon Goodman, who combined to pull down 12. The Rebels were determined to control the rebounding battle and it showed.
Outstanding performance by an ensemble
We’ve heard a lot about the Rebels’ depth, and they proved it could truly be a factor in this game. It may have been the best bench performance of the season, as Quintrell Thomas, Savon Goodman and Justin Hawkins all provided quality minutes. Thomas was once again a beast on the boards (five rebounds in 12 minutes), Goodman did Goodman things (six points, seven rebounds, two steals) and Hawkins canned some big threes (2-of-5 beyond the arc, eight points total). Teams like Irvine simply can’t keep up when UNLV rolls that kind of quality off the bench.
What does it mean?
The good news is that the Rebels showed improvement in several key areas. They rebounded better, they took care of the ball, and they continued to play with direction in the halfcourt. The not-necessarily-bad news is that it’s hard to tell if it’s legitimate improvement, or if it’s a result of playing a less talented team. Either way, the Rebels look like they’re developing an identity. When they throw it inside to Moser and Bennett and pound away, the rest of the offense has room to breathe naturally. Chalk this game up as another positive step forward.
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