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December 8, 2016

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Ray Brewer: From the Pressbox

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Instant Analysis: Smothering UNLV defense again gives Rebels an edge

Intensity, however, isn’t sustained as Rebels nearly blow 22-point advantage

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV’s Oscar Bellfield and Justin Hawkins deny a shot by Boise State Ryan Watkins during their game at the Orleans Arena Wednesday, December 8, 2010.

UNLV vs. Boise State

UNLV guard Chace Stanback pats teammate Quintrell Thomas on the head during their game against Boise State at the Orleans Arena Wednesday, December 8, 2010. UNLV held off a late surge to win 75-72 and improve to 9-0. Launch slideshow »

Derrick Jasper gave this scribe an up-close look at the in-your-face, pressure defense that has become the strength of the UNLV basketball team.

Jasper, the Rebels’ senior guard, was pursuing the ball near midcourt Wednesday during UNLV's game against Boise State at the Orleans Arena, when his pressure forced the Broncos into one of 11 first-half turnovers.

The ball and Boise State player virtually landed on my spot at the media table — some 30 feet away from Boise State’s basket. UNLV, with its suffocating defense leading the way, opened the game on a 15-0 run en route to a 75-72 victory.

Boise State didn’t score until the 13:45 mark of the first half, just like UNLV held UNR scoreless Saturday for more than 10 minutes to open the game.

It was UNLV’s first game in Las Vegas since Nov. 20, a span of five games where the undefeated Rebels jumped from not being ranked to No. 20 in the country. Credit the defensive intensity, especially when the opposition is attempting to bring the ball up the court, for five relatively easy road victories.

The full court pressure works because of the speed of UNLV’s guards. With players such as Anthony Marshall, Oscar Bellfield, Tre'Von Willis and Justin Hawkins applying the pressure, several turnovers and easy baskets have keyed the hot start.

The Rebels didn’t rely on their full court press as much Wednesday as in past games but still forced a season-high 22 turnovers — including nine by Boise State point guard La’Shard Anderson. Enough said.

Here are some other observations from Wednesday’s game, which oddly enough, didn't include UNLV sustaining its intensity the entire 40 minutes.

1) Chace Stanback continues to impress: Following Stanback’s 25-point performance against Wisconsin Nov. 20, when he carried the Rebels to a big non-conference victory, a colleague in the newsroom made what I deemed a ridiculous prediction by claiming he thought Stanback would one-day make the NBA. I argued the 6-foot-8 forward had no chance of making the league. We bet a steak dinner, and not the kind you get for $4.99 after midnight on Boulder Highway. What I assumed was a sure-thing wager looks in serious danger. Yes, Stanback has been that good this year. In the Rebels’ victory against Boise State, he outscored the Broncos for the game’s initial 15 minutes in finishing with a team-high 16 points. Stanback is confident with the ball in his hands, not afraid to take any shot and clearly the best player on the court. He was the MVP of the 76 Classic over Thanksgiving weekend, when the Rebels won three games in four days on national television to earn a spot in the rankings. He’s a big reason why the Rebels (9-0) are off to their best start since the 1990-91 season. Still, and this is open to debate, I think it’s a little too premature to mention Stanback and the NBA in the same sentence.

2) Brice Massamba continues doing the little things: Massamba, a 6-foot-10 junior post player, might not fill out the score sheet with points, rebounds and blocks every night. But you can’t measure hustle with a number in the box score, and when it comes to giving it his all on both ends of the court, Massamba continues to be one of the UNLV’s leaders. He did all of the little things Wednesday night — taking a charge, diving on the floor for a loose ball and being first in line to congratulate a teammate after a nice play. He’s one of those players every team needs. And, as he continues to develop, the four points and two rebounds per game he averages will surely become a more significant contribution. Just don’t expect it to take away from what he does best — the little things.

3) Rebels need that killer instinct: UNLV led by as many as 22 points in the first half, making the close finish simply unacceptable. The Rebels were fortunate they were only playing Boise State and not Saturday opponent Louisville. UNLV mentally shut it down in the second half, obviously thinking a victory was in the bag. They also faded late in the win against UNR — an awful trend that can't continue. Give Boise State credit for not throwing in the towel. For UNLV, the game should serve as a lesson to not take their foot off the pedal. A loss at home to Boise State would have erased that great start to the season.

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