It looked like UNLV was in serious trouble on Tuesday night.
Playing at Portland without one of the their best players, injured junior Mike Moser, the Rebels struggled through the first 20 minutes and it appeared as though they might actually lose to a Pilots team that entered the game with a 3-4 record. But thanks to a spirited performance from a pair of backcourt stalwarts, along with a frontcourt fill-in, UNLV rallied to secure a hard-fought road win.
Which players were most responsible for pulling the Rebels out of the hole? Let’s run through it with an “Ups and Downs” column.
UNLV was flatlining on offense until Hawkins electro-shocked some life back into the Rebels in the second half. He scored all 15 of his points after halftime, hitting 4-of-6 3-pointers and at one point scoring 11 in a row to give UNLV the lead. Hawkins has a great ability to determine what the Rebels need at any given moment, and then provide it. Well, offense was badly needed against Portland, considering the Rebels shot just 24.2 percent in the first half, and Hawkins’ outburst came at just the right time.
Marshall was the toughest player on the floor for the Rebels, making big plays on both ends to help secure the win. His offense came from everywhere — he hit from the outside, he forced his way to the free throw line, he posted up — and his defense was on point, as usual. Marshall also threw his body around, going to the floor more times than I could count and winning 50/50 balls. He finished with 16 points, four assists, six rebounds, three steals and just one turnover, but it was his win-at-all-costs attitude that really set the tone.
I don’t know about you, but I have to fight the urge to take Bennett for granted when it comes to the “Ups and Downs.” And considering he’s played just seven games in his college career, that’s a remarkable development. The freshman has been consistently excellent this season, and the Portland game was no different. He paced the Rebels with 18 points (6-of-11 shooting) and also chipped in six rebounds, three steals and a block. It was business as usual for Bennett — well, right up until the final five seconds, when he unleashed a vicious dunk on an overmatched Portland defender.
Filling in for Mike Moser isn’t easy, but Thomas did a fine job. He played good post defense, rebounded aggressively (seven boards, six offensive) and made the most of his chances when Portland left him open (nine points on 3-of-6 shooting). And perhaps most importantly, he stayed on the floor. Thomas has been effective all season, but he’s run into foul trouble on more than one occasion. But he only picked up two fouls against Portland, which allowed him to play 28 minutes on a night when the Rebels were thin in the frontcourt.
The Rebels have struggled to score against zone defenses, and Portland was quick to hunker down in a 2-3 alignment. The result was 6-of-25 shooting from 3-point range for UNLV, with many of the attempts coming early in the shot clock after just one or two passes. For the season, the Rebels are shooting just 34.9 percent against zone defenses, compared to 44.1 percent against man defense. Opponents are going to keep using it until UNLV proves they can solve it.
Bryce Dejean-Jones is a gifted scorer, but his outside shot is lagging behind right now. As a freshman at USC two years ago, he made a healthy 34.5 percent of his 3-pointers, but he’s making them at just a 26.1 percent clip this season. He hasn’t hit from long distance in any of the last three games, and he went 0-of-6 against Portland. His broken left hand may still be bothering him, but the Rebels are going to need him to heat up eventually.
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