Friday, Nov. 25, 2011 | 2:05 a.m.
- It wasn’t pretty early, but Rebels close strong in confidence-building victory against Cal Poly (11-23-2011)
- Mike Moser named the Mountain West Conference player of the week (11-21-2011)
- Rebels find stroke from the outside to break zone defense, record another lopsided win (11-20-2011)
- 2011-12 UNLV Men's Basketball Schedule
- All UNLV Men's Basketball Coverage
Some people are classifying this game as the most important on the UNLV basketball team’s schedule.
When the Rebels (5-0) play USC at 4:30 p.m. Friday at the Orleans Arena in the Las Vegas Invitational, the reward for winning can’t be undervalued and arguably makes the game the most significant contest of the young season.
A victory would likely pit the Rebels against top-ranked North Carolina the following day on ESPN2 — a perfect advertisement for the new-look Rebels and their uptempo style under first-year coach Dave Rice.
In addition to getting a crack at knocking off a national power and proving they could be a force later in the season, the game will surely include announcers linking Rice (part of UNLV’s 1990 national title team) to the successes of yesteryear under legendary coach Jerry Tarkanian. Tark will surely be courtside, too.
But before everyone gets ahead of themselves anticipating Saturday’s game, let’s take a look at Friday’s game Take Five style.
Getting to know USC : USC only returns one starter from last year’s team that lost to VCU in the NCAA Tournament first round, and the inexperience has led to a rough start for coach Kevin O’Neill’s team. The Trojans have a 2-3 record, only scoring four points in the final 10 minutes of a 43-37 loss to Cal Poly. They’ve also lost by two points to San Diego State and in double overtime to Nebraska. Tuesday, USC overcame a double-digit deficit to beat Morgan State in the second round of the tournament, 65-62. Two USC players are scoring in double figures — junior forward Aaron Fuller and sophomore guard Maurice Jones are each averaging about 15 points per game.
The last time they met : Oscar Bellfield, then a sophomore, had a UNLV team-high 17 points, but the Rebels lost to USC in Hawaii on Christmas Day 2009, 67-56. The Rebels entered averaging 75 points per game but suffered through an offensive drought in being held 18 points under their average. Current senior Chace Stanback had one of his worst career games, going 1-for-5 from the field for five points and picking up four fouls in 13 minutes. UNLV had eight assists and committed 15 turnovers, making just 5 of 22 of its attempts on 3-pointers.
One-two punch of Bellfield, Marshall gives Rebs an edge : Bellfied and junior Anthony Marshall have been interchangeable all season at both guard positions, guiding the Rebels with their steady play to a 5-0 start to the season. This is their third year together in the Rebels’ backcourt, giving them a familiarity with each others’ game that gives UNLV a distinct advantage. For the season, they have combined with 54 assists and just 21 turnovers. “It all starts with the distribution ability of Oscar Bellfield and Anthony Marshall,” Rice said after Tuesday’s game. “Those are the two guys that absolutely make this team go. They come every day, they work hard and they commit to their teammates.” The rest of the team has followed their unselfish ways, with the Rebels averaging 21.6 assists per game, which ranks third nationally for teams that have played five games.
Can Massamba capitalize on his breakout game? : In Tuesday’s 75-52 win against Cal Poly, Brice Massamba was one of the keys to the victory, scoring 10 points and grabbing a team-high nine rebounds. When Cal Poly was limiting UNLV’s options on the perimeter early in the game, the inside-out game with Massamba gave the Rebels the edge. More importantly, he made all four of his free throw attempts — a minor victory for the team’s worst free throw shooter. “Brice has a lot of potential,” Bellfield said after Tuesday’s game. “It’s just confidence. That is all it is. It takes one game like this to build his confidence. Hopefully, he can keep it up.” Expect USC to have a similar defensive approach to Cal Poly, meaning Massamba could be called upon again on the interior. For the season, Massamba is averaging a career high in points (6.8 per contest) and rebounds (3.8). The nine boards against Cal-Poly tied a career high.
Brewer’s prediction : UNLV manhandled Morgan State last Sunday to the tune of a 37-point victory. On Tuesday, USC was lucky to survive against Morgan State in a three-point win. Sure, USC will play a physical type of game, and the Trojans definitely have some talented players. At this point of the season, however, they aren’t a good team. It’s that simple. This should be an easy win — UNLV 81, USC 54.