Rebels Shake Off Poor First Half, Top Portland

Hawkins, Bennett lead second-half surge as Rebels move to 6-1

The next time someone tries to downplay Mike Moser‘s importance to the 2012-13 Runnin’ Rebels, tell them to pop in a tape of Tuesday night’s game at Portland.

Without its junior leader, UNLV looked completely lost in the first half. The offense was a wreck — and not even a trainwreck, as that would be too kind. It was more like a shipwreck, sunk to the bottom of the ocean and being picked at by the fish. The Rebels shot 24.2 percent in the first half, with six assists and seven turnovers. They hit just 1-of-15 3-pointers and trailed, 28-22 at the break.

But just like that, the Rebels flipped a switch and turned it around in the second half. Led by white-hot shooting from Justin Hawkins and a gritty all-around effort from Anthony Marshall, they blew past Portland and held on for a 68-60 win. Let’s dissect the victory with a “Fast Breakdown.”

UNLV def. Portland, 68-60

Box Score »


Port-Land of Confusion
If there’s anything worse than referencing a Genesis song from 1986 in a headline, it was the Rebels’ first-half performance in Portland. The numbers were bad enough (see the intro above if you’re a true masochist), but the general sense of confusion was the most disconcerting thing. Moser was sorely missed, as the Rebels lacked structure and reverted back to jacking up quick 3’s, without much success. Even with Anthony Bennett beasting (11 first-half points), there was no consistent effort to get the ball inside. If there was any message to draw from the first half, it would probably be: Hurry back, Mike.

Second-half surge
Despite the slow start, there are some definite positives to take away from this game. For instance, last year this would have almost certainly been a loss. UNLV was poor on the road last season, collapsing at the first sign of trouble. And this much adversity (no Moser, foul trouble for Bennett, poor shooting) would have been too much to overcome. But the Rebels showed great fortitude in the second half, led by senior leaders Justin Hawkins and Anthony Marshall (31 combined points). The backcourt duo played tremendous defense, and Hawkins erased the deficit virtually by himself once he got hot from 3-point land. No matter the opponent, it’s never easy to come back on the road and win. Give UNLV credit for showing mental toughness and grinding this one out.

Justin Hawkins, Superhero
The Rebels were struggling mightily to put points on the board, but Hawkins single-handedly took care of that in the second half. The senior guard drilled four 3-pointers after halftime, and at one point scored 11 straight points to give UNLV the lead for good. He finished with 15 points, three steals, three assists and two blocks in 28 minutes, and that stat line doesn’t even do him justice. Hawkins gets my game ball.

Zoning out
I expect to see Dave Rice to spend a lot of time on breaking the zone in upcoming practices. The Rebels haven’t been good against zone, and with their struggles from outside (just 6-of-25 against Portland), they’re going to see more and more of it as the season goes on. Bryce Dejean-Jones and Katin Reinhardt were quick on the trigger, with little success — Dejean-Jones was 0-of-9 from the floor and 0-of-6 from 3-point range, while Reinhardt finished 2-of-10 and 0-of-4 from 3. That’s no way to break a zone, especially when you have Anthony Bennett (18 points, 6-of-11 FGs) roaming the middle.

What does it mean?
A win is a win, especially on the road. Just keep repeating that and you’ll feel better. Even though UNLV turned it around in the second half and really played some good basketball, the fact remains that we’re seven games into the season and we still haven’t seen the Rebels play a full 40 minutes. With another road game at Cal looming on Sunday, we won’t have to wait long to see how they respond. Cal is 6-1 and coming off their first loss (at Wisconsin), so the Bears will probably be fired up and come flying out of the gate. If the Rebels stumble early again, they may not be able to overcome it — with or without Moser.

Follow Mike Grimala (@MikeGrimala) on Twitter for 24/7 Rebels updates.

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