As we covered on Wednesday, UNLV’s matchup with La Verne is basically a mid-season exhibition game. It will count toward the Rebels’ regular-season record, but won’t affect their RPI rating one way or the other.
So what do the Rebels stand to gain from playing the Division III school at this point in the season? Let’s take a quick look at some of the storylines.
No mo’ Mo
Losing Mike Moser (dislocated elbow) for a month was bad luck, but the scheduling of the La Verne game comes at a fortuitous time because it gives the Rebels another 40 minutes to work on playing without him. We got a glimpse of the strategy last week, when UNLV was down Moser for the Portland game and most of the Cal game. Anthony Bennett saw more inside touches and averaged 21.5 points in the two games, including a career-high 25 at Cal. Bennett is the clear No. 1 option now, and La Verne gives the Rebels a chance to work on running the offense through him.
The Rebels have spent some time practicing the man/zone mix that Jerry Tarkanian once utilized with great success, and they’ve sprinkled it in during recent games. But this could be the perfect time for Dave Rice to test it extensively against live competition. The roster is athletic enough to run it, but like any new defensive concept, it will take time for the players to become comfortable with it. La Verne presents an opportunity for the Rebels to get some live reps in the amoeba and see if it’s worth using against better competition.
Bryce settling in
Now that Bennett is the first option on offense, who slots in behind him? Bryce Dejean-Jones made his case against Cal by breaking out of his shooting slump and pouring in 22 points. “I’m getting more comfortable with my role,” said Dejean-Jones. “I want to let the game come to me, and still continue to be aggressive.” I think Dejean-Jones is the best bet to become an efficient wing scorer this season, and another good showing against La Verne would only solidify his comfort level with that role.
Extended minutes for Thomas
Quintrell Thomas was the hero against Cal, but he almost didn’t get the chance to grab that last-second rebound and score the game-winner because of foul trouble. He picked up four fouls in 19 minutes, and that will continue to be the biggest question for Thomas while he fills in as the starting center. The Rebels need him to play extended minutes now, but it’s up to Thomas to avoid foul trouble and stay on the court. Can he do that without comprimising his physical style of play?
Anthony Marshall is playing 31.8 minutes per game, while no other Rebel is at the 30 mark. In order to avoid wearing him out, Rice wants to give freshman Daquan Cook some minutes as the backup point guard, starting against La Verne. Is Cook ready? He’s looked effective in practice, and though he’s still extremely skinny, his quickness and ball-handling are up to par. And he may have the best court vision of any player on the team. If his size doesn’t hurt him too much on defense, Cook could develop into a good backup point guard as early as this season. “My approach has been to come in every day and get better,” said Cook. “I’m just excited to get on the floor.”
Prediction: UNLV 86, La Verne 52
Player of the Game: Katin Reinhardt — 20 points, 4 assists
Follow Mike Grimala (@MikeGrimala) on Twitter for 24/7 Rebels updates.