Since this is a report card column, I might as well hammer the education theme going right from the start.
Saturday's win over Jacksonville state was a textbook "teachable moment" for the Rebels. Because they will possess superior athleticism to most of their opponents this season, and becasue their preferred style is to get out and run, teams are going to naturally do their best to minimize those advantages. Jacksonville State did that by slowing the pace and grinding down the clock in the halfcourt, and the Rebels should expect to get similar treatment from opponents as the schedule unfolds.
How did the Rebels handle playing in slow motion? Let's examine it in this edition of the report card.
REBELS REPORT CARD
My original inclination was to give UNLV a C+ in this department, mostly because the first-half offense was so disjointed (40.7 percent shooting, 11 turnovers). But I liked the way the Rebels adjusted and eventually solved the Jacksonville State defense in the second half (54.2 percent, eight TOs), hence the bump up to a B-. The Rebels were over-anxious early, driving into the teeth of the defense and generally forcing the issue, and the result was a bushel of turnovers. They calmed down toward the end of the first half and executed much better in the second half, and the results were clear. Mike Moser was one of the main culprits in the early turnover spree, but I can live with his aggressiveness because it resulted in a team-high 19 points on 12 shots. Anthony Marshall also earns a high individual grade from me. He excelled in an open-court game against Northern Arizona, but against Jax State he proved he could be effective at a slower tempo as well, posting 11 points, six assists and just two turnovers. Anthony Bennett wasn't quite as dominant as opening night, but he also didn't get as many touches around the basket — the physical freshman scored his 12 points on just six shots. Bryce Dejean-Jones helped spread the floor in his first game as a starter, but overall the team's outside shooting wasn't good (5-19 on 3-pointers).
The Rebels were impenetrable in the first half, holding Jax State to 21.7 percent from the floor. It was a different story when the game started to open up in the second half, as the Red Storm shot over 51 percent and scored 44 points, but the Rebels were able to get key stops whenever it was necessary. Bennett and Moser did their jobs against the undersized Jax State lineup, defending the paint and challenging shots around the basket. But their biggest contributions came on the glass, as UNLV ended up winning the rebounding battle by a 41-24 margin. Moser led the way with 10 boards, while Bennett had nine (five offensive). On the perimeter, Marshall provided good ball pressure at the point of attack, and Justin Hawkins was a standout off the bench, covering a lot of ground and coming up with a pair of steals.
Dave Rice made a big move before the game, shifting Hawkins to the bench and inserting Dejean-Jones into the starting lineup. That move by itself would have gotten an A+ after Hawkins came through with 16 points (5-9 from the field), two rebounds and two steals in 27 minutes (two minutes more than Dejean-Jones played, coincidentally). But the rest of the reserves didn't make much of a dent in the box score — Hawkins was the only bench player to score (or even attempt a field goal). For the second time in as many games, Quintrell Thomas made a positive impact by playing physical defense (seven rebounds, one block and four personal fouls in 13 minutes). Freshman Savon Goodman, on the other hand, got just six minutes. Goodman is expected to be a key contributor this season, but he's been hobbled by a thigh injury recently, and that may have cut into his playing time.
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