Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Thursday, Jan. 5, 2012 | 11:55 p.m.
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BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — The UNLV basketball team wrapped up the non-conference portion of its schedule with a familiar refrain: dominate the second half.
The Rebels (16-2) went on the road and defeated Cal State Bakersfield 89-57. And although the outcome was never really in doubt, UNLV entered halftime ahead by 11 and lucky that the Roadrunners (7-9) weren’t closer. Then came a 16-2 run.
Like waves crashing into the beach, the Rebels relentlessly attack teams until the pressure is simply too much.
“We try to get after them until we get tired,” senior guard Oscar Bellfield said. “And then we rotate.”
No. 17 UNLV shot 51.3 percent in the second half Thursday night, the 11th time this season that it has shot at least 50 percent after halftime. That’s a staggering figure, and it would seem to suggest that the credit goes to the offense.
But the Rebels’ offensive style starts with defensive pressure, and sophomore forward Mike Moser said team defense was the focal point at the break.
Coach Dave Rice wasn’t happy that his team had given up nine offensive rebounds in the first half. He knew if his team kept the Roadrunners off the boards, then the Rebels could get into their transition game.
In the first four minutes of the second half, Bakersfield missed four shots, committed three turnovers and collected only one rebound, which was on the defensive end. The result was a 25-point deficit and a Rebels rout.
“Our guys are a very confident group in the second half,” Rice said. “… That begs the question, ‘Why don’t we play a little bit better in the first half?’ We need to figure that out. But it’s a good sign that we’re as deep, that we’re as conditioned as we are.”
Seven Rebels played at least 20 minutes and two more played 13 minutes each. And that doesn’t even include senior center Brice Massamba, who should be healthy enough to play by the conference opener on Jan. 14 at San Diego State.
Moser led the way with 17 points and 11 rebounds — his eighth double-double of the season. Junior guard Justin Hawkins also scored 17 points in 22 minutes while junior guard Anthony Marshall notched 12 points and six rebounds.
Rice has enough players in whom he trusts to perform that he could send in a full line change without many reservations.
“Once again I think our depth wore a team out,” Rice said.
Besides getting the victory, it was important for UNLV to get out of this game healthy. With the game against the Aztecs looming, the Rebels need to be at full strength in order to start strong in the Mountain West.
That looked to be in doubt midway through the second half when sophomore center Carlos Lopez went down with an ankle injury. However, Lopez, who got his first career start in place of Massamba, returned a short time after getting it looked at in the locker room.
After the game he had ice on his right ankle, but his consistency in the game’s final minutes put to rest any worries about his health.
The Rebels get nine days to heal their bumps and bruises before playing a game again. They also have that time to reflect on how they’ve gotten to this point. And when they do, balance will certainly be one of the topics.
“We have different players that can score different nights,” Bellfield said.
Five different Rebels have led the team in scoring for a game this season, including four different players in the last five games.
Leading scorer Chace Stanback, who came into the game having hit 21-of-29 3-pointers, missed his first seven shots and finished just 2-of-12. But you would never know that from looking at the score.
That’s because UNLV can count on another wave to come crashing in.
Thursday night, Bellfield, who had been in a bit of an offensive slump, helped fill the void with 13 points, his most since the 90-80 victory against North Carolina on Nov. 26.
UNLV has accomplished a lot so far. Just imagine what they’ve got in store for the second half.