Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Monday, Nov. 12, 2012 | 8:55 p.m.
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The UNLV basketball team did what it was supposed to do Monday night in the season opener: They beat a team they were better than. And beat them rather convincingly.
UNLV, at least for one night, lived up to its hype and preseason expectations — which, considering the expectations by some (a trip to the Final Four) were rather lofty, speaks volumes about the Rebels’ potential to live up to those aspirations.
While the Rebels’ 92-54 victory against Northern Arizona is tough to use as a measuring stick because the opponent was so overmatched, it’s easy to see why UNLV could have its best team since the early 1990s.
Remember, it was just one game. Yes, a great first impression, but still one game. No need to book tickets to Atlanta and the Final Four.
UNLV never trailed and led by double digits for virtually the entire game. Northern Arizona had no chance — the way it is supposed to be against an opponent such as Northern Arizona. And definitely better than the train wreck of last week’s exhibition against Dixie State.
Here are some other observations from the opener, including Anthony Bennett’s great opening night. He’s easily the most talented Rebel in two decades.
Anthony Bennett’s strong debut: So, this is how a McDonald’s All-American impacts a program. Anthony Bennett, a consensus top-10 prospect nationally last year and the prized recruit in UNLV’s best recruiting class since Jerry Tarkanian was attracting NBA talent to Las Vegas, had a seemingly perfect debut. At the first media timeout about six minutes into the game, Bennett was outscoring Northern Arizona by himself — 9-5 — in helping UNLV build an early eight-point lead. It’s safe to say he is better than advertised. Bennett finished with 22 points on 9-of-13 shooting with seven rebounds in just 20 minutes. Yes, just 20 minutes. He has a smooth shooting stroke from the outside, is virtually unstoppable on the inside and seemed like he could score at will. It seemed like he brought the crowd to their feet each time he touched the ball. It’s going to be fun watching him — even if it’s for just one season.
Bryce Dejean-Jones : One play showed why Bryce Dejean-Jones’ might be the most valuable addition to the program. On his second touch of the game, the USC transfer aggressively took the ball to the basket and was fouled attempting to dunk over a defender. It was one of those dunks that could have brought the rim down. And one of those aggressive moves to the basket UNLV desperately missed last season. UNLV is, and always will be, a team that lives and dies with the outside shot. While Jones is more than capable of thriving on the perimeter, his value comes in the "get out of my way" mentality with the ball in his hands. It’s a philosophy that should become contagious with teammates, the type of attitude you need during crunch time later in the season. It was Dejean-Jones' first true game in 18 months after transferring, which makes his performance even more impressive because he showed little rust.Dejean-Jones, who finished with 15 points on 5-of-7 shooting, and Bennett have a certain swagger and toughness that’s tough to find.
Speaking of great debuts : Anthony Marshall managed the team virtually perfectly from the point guard spot, connecting on all six of the shots he attempted and dishing out six assists in his debut as the Rebels’ primary ballhandler. This senior, who had the reputation of being a bit reckless with the ball at times last season, was in control from start to finish. He was aggressive on defense in creating turnovers and did a great job getting his teammates involved offensively. Later in the season, during crunch time in a March basketball game, having a steady point guard can be the difference in advancing. For one night, Marshall more than reliable.
Home court advantage: Despite coming a few hundred sold-tickets away from their goal of a sellout, the simple fact that 18,187 fans attended the opener — mind you, against Northern Arizona — confirms Rebel Fever (love that George Dare song) is alive and well in Las Vegas. It was the most fans for a home opener in program history. This team is expected to be the best since the glory years in the early 1990s, and when it is all said and done, expect the total attendance figures to equal or surpass numbers from those magical seasons. UNLV hasn’t lost at home in 19 games with Dave Rice at the helm. The atmosphere on game days is a big reason why. Love the Rebellion student cheering section — well, except for the cutout of boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. I’d rather see Manny Pacquiao, or anyone who hasn’t beaten a woman.