UNLV needs a strong finish. Their toughest regular season games are behind them. The schedule sets up for a nice, momentum-building run into the postseason.
Expectations weren’t particularly high entering the season. They are now.
The question marks are gone. The team has ability. Success is expected.
With three regular season games to play, the Rebels still have some kinks to work out. The 31-point massacre of Colorado State was a nice start, but upon further review, there are more substantive reasons for optimism than just the final score.
The dominating performance wasn’t the result of a series of lucky breaks. It wasn’t by happenstance or coincidence.
The Rebels, as a team, were able to contribute in many smaller ways that had eluded them through much of the season, and especially the last few games.
If UNLV can consistently replicate the formula that led to a Ram-lambasting, the next month could be special.
If not, a forgettable post-season awaits.
On the Rebound
Talking about the Rebels’ struggles on the glass is like beating a dead horse. Actually, it’s like standing around watching someone else beat a dead horse. Regardless, it continues to be a point of emphasis.
UNLV out-rebounded Colorado State, which is a good thing. The Rebels had lost the battle on the boards in each of their last three games. Any progress is encouraging.
It’s worth pointing out, however, that UNLV only managed to pull down five more rebounds than Colorado State, despite the fact that the Rams missed 16 more shots (field goals and free throws combined).
There is ample room for improvement.
They Call him the Streak
Kendall Wallace has been given many nicknames by teammates, TV personalities, and fans. As an underclassman, he was dubbed K-Fed McLovin. It’s not exactly clear why.
Early in the season, Wallace was red hot from long distance. He made 7-of-11 threes in the Rebels first three games, earning himself a new nickname: The ATM (Automatic Three Machine).
Since then, Wallace's touch has been sporadic. He’s had great games, but has also hit some rough patches. For the first time all season, Wallace went back-to-back games without hitting a three. UNLV lost both games (to San Diego State and Utah).
Kendall Wallace is a streaky, streaky shooter. Thus, his new nickname: Ghetto Windex. He’s streaky.
GW was streaking in a good way Saturday. He splashed in three shots from downtown, the sixth time this year he’s hit three or more in a game.
The Rebels are 5-1 in those games.
When Wallace is on, he provides instant offense off the bench and spaces the floor for his teammates. UNLV is a different team offensively when Kendall Wallace is knocking down shots.
Meet Me at the Rim
It was obvious the first time he took the floor for UNLV that Anthony Marshall is a tremendous athlete. From day one, Marshall was adept at beating his man off the dribble and getting to the basket.
Unfortunately, Marshall had some struggles adjusting to the speed and skill of the college game. He was often met at the rim by a help defender. At times he seemed surprised and unprepared for the second defender, often leading to missed shots or turnovers.
It appears Marshall has turned the corner.
Marshall still flashes his impressive burst to the basket, but lately has been converting his efforts in to points and assists, often of the spectacular variety. Never was this more evident than in Saturday’s game.
Anthony Marshall, or AMPM (too much good stuff), compiled 12 points, 10 rebounds, and just one turnover in 26 minutes.
The progress of Marshall is the an incredibly encouraging, for the remainder of this year and for the three to follow.
Coping with Rejection
Brice Massamba is big. He is listed at 6’10” and 240 lbs.
Entering the contest with Colorado State, Brice Massamba had recorded just eight blocked shots on the season.
Saturday, Massamba contributed a career high five blocks.
One thing the Rebels have been missing all season is an interior defensive force, a big man who can recover when the perimeter defense breaks down. UNLV's trademark aggressive, confrontational defensive style on the perimeter has yielded terrific results throughout the season, but a formidable shot blocker under the hoop is the missing ingredient in elevating the Rebels to a truly elite defensive level.
When UNLV is able to compliment their strong perimeter defense with blocked shots from help defenders, it leads to a miserable night for the opposing offense.
The Rebels tallied a total of eight blocks on Saturday.
The Rams managed just 39 points. They missed 39 shots.
Massamba was (literally) a huge factor in Colorado State’s offensive woes. UNLV fans are praying his performance was no fluke.
There’s no ‘I’ in Blowout
At times this season, Tre’Von Willis has carried the Rebels. He’s scored 20+ points on ten different occasions and has produced three 30 point performances.
Willis is averaging 21.5 points per conference game.
On Saturday, he scored 11 points. He took just six shots. He probably didn’t need to take any.
The single most impressive thing about the play of the Rebels against Colorado State was the balance and unselfishness with which the team performed.
Six players scored seven or more points. No player scored more than 12. No individual attempted more than nine shots.
For the first time in five games, UNLV earned more trips to the free throw line than their opponent. Seven different players made at least one free throw. No player missed more than one.
It was a true team effort. They shared the load.
Willis played loose, at no point feeling pressured to force the issue or attempt heroics.
It may not have come against the toughest competition, but it was the best example of team basketball the Rebels have demonstrated all season.
Does it Matter?
It was just one game. It may not happen again. After all, UNLV is supposed to handle Colorado State at home. It might not have any lasting impact whatsoever.
On the other hand, the effect going forward could be very significant.
Under Lon Kruger, UNLV will always play solid pressure defense. They’ll force turnovers. They’ll protect the ball. They’ll play smart and efficiently.
The question is, can the Rebels expand their repertoire of consistency? Can they continue to do the things they have done well all season, and add on top the capabilities they demonstrated on Saturday?
Can they continue to play Kruger ball, but also get to the line, block shots, snatch rebounds, and score from all five positions?
Whether or not they can will determine just how much damage they do in March.
If nothing else, they’ve proven they know the formula.