Replaying the Highlights from the First Half of UNLV’s Season

Chris Wood has come up big in his sophomore season. | Photo by Josh Metz

Chris Wood has come up big in his sophomore season. | Photo by Josh Metz

Incredible individual performances. Inspiring come-from-behind victories. And one stunning upset. The UNLV basketball team has already packed a season’s worth of highlights into a campaign that’s only reached its midpoint. As the Rebels continue their quest for a Mountain West Conference championship, we count down the season’s seven most memorable moments so far:

7 The Great Escape

The Rebels found themselves in an 11-point hole late in the second half of the November 14 opener against Morehead State. But the team’s vaunted freshman class led a late comeback capped by Rashad Vaughn’s tiebreaking 3-pointer with 1:05 to play. Vaughn finished with 26 points in his college debut, and senior-transfer point guard Cody Doolin contributed three points, seven assists, six rebounds and a bundle of hustle plays down the stretch of UNLV’s 60-59 win.

6 Moral Victory, Anyone?

UNLV fell 76-61 at Kansas on January 4, but the final score wasn’t indicative of the Rebels’ performance. They went into one of the toughest venues in college sports (historic Phog Allen Fieldhouse, where Kansas is 181-9 under coach Bill Self) and pushed the No. 13 team to the limit. Balanced offense helped UNLV claim a 33-29 halftime lead, and although the Rebels ran out of gas late in the second half, the first 30 minutes provided a snapshot of how good this team could be.

5 it’s “The Other Guy”

Patrick McCaw entered the season as the most anonymous member of the freshman class, but he didn’t stay anonymous for long. With his quickness and length, the lanky guard immediately proved he’s the Rebels’ best perimeter defender. That was never more evident than on December 13 against South Dakota, as McCaw racked up four steals and seven deflections in 31 minutes in the Rebels’ 75-61 victory.

4 Vaughn Gets His Groove Back

Vaughn established himself as the team’s most explosive scorer in the season opener, but after struggling in two games in New York during the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic, he needed a bounce-back game. So he came out firing November 29 against Albany, burying 11 of 18 shots to ring up a career-high 29 points. The polished freshman scored off the dribble, from mid-range and from long distance (5-for-11 on 3-pointers) to help the Rebels roll to a 75-59 victory.

3 Wood Catches Fire

There’s a good chance this will go down as the season in which Chris Wood became a superstar, as the skinny sophomore consistently asserted himself on both ends of the court and carried the Rebels for long stretches. One such instance came on New Year’s Eve in the Mountain West opener at Wyoming, where Wood scored the Rebels’ first 19 points, nailing his first six shots from the field, including three 3-pointers. Although the Rebels lost 76-71, Wood finished with 29 points and proved he had arrived as a big-time player.

2 Doolin Delivers

Coach Dave Rice convinced Doolin to transfer to UNLV for by selling him on the opportunity to be a leader for a talented team of younger players. Doolin knew this would mean he’d have to take charge at times, especially in close games. Cut to Doolin’s finishing kick against Portland on December 17, when he tossed the Rebels on his back and dragged them to a 75-73 overtime victory. UNLV trailed by eight points with 3 minutes to play in regulation, but Doolin dominated from there, scoring or assisting on 15 of UNLV’s final 22 points. Doolin finished with a season-high 15 points, and the Rebels came away knowing they had their leader.

1 Topping the ’Cats

Arizona was undefeated and ranked No. 3 when it arrived at the Thomas & Mack Center on December 23, but the young Rebels seized the moment and delivered a 71-67 victory as a 12½-point underdog. Wood (21 points, 10 rebounds, two blocks), Vaughn (21 points, three assists, three steals) and McCaw (13 points, seven rebounds) totaled 32 of the team’s 35 points in a back-and-forth second half and never allowed Arizona to gain momentum in the closing minutes. After McCaw hit two free throws in the final seconds and Arizona fumbled away its final possession, UNLV fans stormed the court to celebrate the program’s biggest victory in more than three years.