Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2010 | 2:15 a.m.
UNLV vs. Kansas State
UNLV Rebels (10-2) vs. Kansas State Wildcats (9-2)
Where: Sprint Center (cap. 18,555)
When: 6 p.m.
Coaches: Lon Kruger is 147-64 in his seven seasons at UNLV and 465-297 in 25 overall seasons; Frank Martin is 81-34 in his four seasons at K-State, which is his first head coaching job.
Series:UNLV leads 3-2
Last time: K-State won, 95-80, in Las Vegas on Dec. 12, 2009.
TV/Radio:ESPN2/ESPN Radio 1100 AM/98.9 FM
G Oscar Bellfield (6-2, 185, Jr.) 11.8 ppg, 4.3 apg, 2.9 rpg.
G Tre'Von Willis (6-4, 195, Sr.) 10.6 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 2.9 apg.
G Derrick Jasper (6-6, 215, Sr.) 9.5 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 2.4 apg.
F Chace Stanback (6-8, 210, Jr.) 13.7 ppg, 4.3 rpg.
F Quintrell Thomas (6-8, 245, So.) 5.9 ppg, 4.2 rpg.
Bench: G Anthony Marshall (6-3, 200, So.) 9.3 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 2.8 apg; F Brice Massamba (6-10, 240, Jr.) 4.8 ppg, 2.2 rpg; G Justin Hawkins (6-3, 190, So.) 5.5 ppg, 2.6 rpg; F Carlos Lopez (6-11, 215, Fr.) 5.0 ppg, 3.8 rpg; G-F Karam Mashour (6-6, 200, Fr.) 3.4 ppg.
What to watch: UNLV's backcourt was overwhelmed last year by K-State's physicality and experience. Now, the Rebels can turn the tables against a struggling group of Wildcat guards. Anthony Marshall played up to his potential against Southern Utah while starting in place of Derrick Jasper. With Jasper back, can Marshall be the same again off of the bench? UNLV needs him to play like the reserve he was last year to keep the pressure on K-State.
G Jacob Pullen (6-0, 200, Sr.) 16.5 ppg, 3.8 apg, 3.7 rpg.
G Will Spradling (6-3, 170, Fr.) 4.6 ppg, 2.1 apg.
F Rodney McGruder (6-4, 205, So.) 10.3 ppg, 6.5 rpg.
F Curtis Kelly (6-8, 239, Sr.) 10.2 ppg, 4.0 rpg.
F Freddy Asprilla (6-10, 280, Jr.) 5.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg.
Bench: F Jamar Samuels (6-7, 220, Jr.) 8.8 ppg, 6.3 rpg; F Wally Judge (6-9, 248, So.) 3.8 ppg, 2.1 rpg; F Jordan Henriquez-Roberts (7-0, 245, So.) 4.0 ppg, 4.5 rpg; G Shane Southwell (6-6, 220, Fr.) 1.0 ppg, 1.2 rpg; G Martavious Irving (6-1, 209, So.) 6.7 ppg, 1.5 rpg; G Nick Russell (6-4, 200, So.) 3.9 ppg, 1.2 rpg.
What to watch: Jacob Pullen has struggled some in the lead guard role this year, but UNLV knows what he's capable of after he went 7-of-10 from three in last year's meeting. Still, he's going to almost always get his. Can youngsters Rodney McGruder and Will Spradling step up against the Rebels' pressure defense around him? They might hold the key to K_State's success in this one.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It was a sentimental lead-in to last season's game between UNLV and Kansas State at the Orleans Arena, as Lon Kruger was taking on the program that he starred with as both a player and coach.
The game itself was nothing memorable for Kruger and his staff, which is also rife with K-State ties.
The Rebels were run out of the Orleans in 95-80 fashion in a game that wasn't even as close as the final score even indicated.
K-State went on to make a magical postseason run that ended in the Elite Eight, and that was parlayed into higher-than-ever expectations and a preseason Top-5 ranking this winter.
It's been a bit of a struggle out of the gates for the 11th-ranked Wildcats, despite the shine of a strong 9-2 start.
Meanwhile, UNLV (10-2) is hoping that its brief struggles from last week struggles are officially in the past, as a 72-50 drubbing of over-matched Southern Utah on Saturday night snapped a two-game skid.
The two will meet on Tuesday night at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo., playing in front of a national audience. Here is what you need to know about both sides heading into the Rebels' biggest game of the non-conference season.
1) Offensive inconsistency plaguing Wildcats
K-State played its worst offensive half of the season in the second stanza of Saturday's 57-44 loss to Florida. After leading 23-20 at the break, the Wildcats fell apart. In the end, they shot an awful 27.3 percent (15-of-55) from the floor and were 3-of-19 from deep.
But rough shooting patches have hardly been uncommon for Frank Martin's club this season.
As a team, they're shooting 43.7 percent from the floor in 11 games and just 54.5 percent at the free throw line.
A lot of the offensive instability comes following the loss of Denis Clemente, who last year as a senior was the Cats' offensive rock. It's put much more responsibility on the shoulders of senior Jacob Pullen, who is averaging a team-high 16.5 points per game, but is only shooting 40 percent on the year. He only shot 38 percent a year ago, but is now leaned on much more.
In other words, Pullen has struggled to adapt to the lead guard role.
If K-State is going to have balanced offensive success against UNLV — and, frankly, moving forward in Big 12 Conference play — its two most important players might be sophomore shooting guard Rodney McGruder and freshman combo guard Will Spradling.
McGruder is an outside specialist who is tied for second on the team with 10.3 points per contest, while Spradling, a one-time UNLV recruiting target, isn't piling numbers, but is gaining valuable experience after starting the team's last three games.
2) Struggling frontcourt still deep
Last season, Curtis Kelly averaged 13.7 points and 9.2 rebounds a game, while sixth man Jamar Samuels chipped in 8.3 and 4.7, respectively.
Kelly's numbers are down (10.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg), while Samuels is having all kinds of troubles staying out of foul trouble and, therefore, on the floor.
But, still, the sheer depth that K-State has up front has the potential to give UNLV's struggling bigs some fits.
Outside of Kelly — another former UNLV recruit — and Samuels, Martin will flex in 6-foot-10 Freddy Asprilla, 7-foot Jordan Henriquez-Roberts and 6-foot-9 Wally Judge.
3) UNLV ready to fight back?
Several UNLV coaches and players recall last year's game as a case of K-State punching the Rebels in the mouth early and assuming the upper hand.
The problem was that, physically, UNLV was never able to take it back.
The rebounding disparity between the two teams was small, and UNLV forced 20 K-State turnovers, but the general tempo and style of the game, at the time, favored the visitors.
It also didn't hurt that K-State was 14-of-23 from three, including a 7-of-10 performance by Pullen.
This time around, UNLV feels that with its backcourt depth and experience, combined with K-State's struggles with consistent guard play, the Rebels are capable of assuming that position.
The Rebels have forced 217 turnovers and have 107 steals in 12 games, and given the Wildcats' suspect free throw shooting, they won't hesitate to get a little aggressive.
4) Getting his swagger back
While Tre'Von Willis has rounded back into form of late for UNLV following his late start to the season, the Rebels need their other offensive centerpiece — junior forward Chace Stanback — to get back in the groove, too.
Stanback leads the Rebels this season with 13.7 points per game and is still shooting at a 53.4 percent clip, but hasn't quite been himself of late.
In the team's last three games, he's averaged a solid 11 points per game, but is just 11 of 30 from the floor and 4-of-14 from three.
To boot, he just hasn't appeared to have his same edge or swagger in that stretch.
UNLV needs him to find it in time for Tuesday night, as his length and ability to make opponents pay from three could help draw some of K-State's bigs out to the perimeter and open up lanes for Willis and the other wings.
5) UNLV's x-factor
At times this season, forward Quintrell Thomas has been great.
At other times, he's been invisible, mostly because he's tied to the bench in foul trouble.
To combat K-State's front line, the Rebels need the Thomas who, in the championship game of the 76 Classic on Nov. 28, went for 14 points, three rebounds and was a rugged overall presence against Virginia Tech.
If he gets into early foul trouble or is not a physical presence, it could be a landslide in the paint. Brice Massamba has struggled this season against big, physical forwards, while Carlos Lopez is still learning how to bang with them on defense and play with his back to the basket on the other end.
Thomas's abilities and 6-foot-8, 245-pound frame make him the most likely answer for K-State's group of big bodies.
The Kansas transfer, playing this game about 40 miles from his old school, has managed to stay on the floor for a total of 40 minutes in UNLV's last two games, totaling 10 points and 15 rebounds..