Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Friday, Nov. 23, 2012 | 7:54 a.m.
The initial reaction to UNLV’s nonconference schedule this season, particularly the home portion, was a collective shrugged shoulder. It lacked the big names to grab headlines, and some even chalked up a perfect home slate from Nov. 12 to Jan. 5 before a single game had been played.
The 18th-ranked Rebels’ first two opponents — Northern Arizona and Jacksonville State — did little to dissuade that notion. This week, however, the outlook could change drastically as UNLV (2-0) hosts three 4-0 power conference foes in the Global Sports Classic.
The Rebels’ first game is at 6 p.m. Friday against Oregon on CBS Sports Network. That one follows the 3:30 p.m. matinee featuring No. 22 Cincinnati and Iowa State, also on CBSSN. The losers from both games will meet again at 5 p.m. Saturday, with the winners following in the championship at 7:30 p.m.
UNLV could get away with bushels of turnovers or defensive lapses in its first two games. It may not be so lucky this time around.
“We understand the challenge we’re going to have this week,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said. “Not playing just one tough game but, regardless of the outcome, playing another really tough game with limited preparation.”
This group is actually one of two four-packs playing at the Mack this weekend, though only friends and family of those involved will be turning out for the opening act of Campbell vs. North Carolina A&T (10 a.m. Friday) and Jacksonville State vs. NAU (12:30 p.m. Friday).
UNLV is clearly the headliner, though there’s certainly some interest in seeing the teams from the Big 12, Big East and Pac-12, particularly Oregon. The Ducks feature three local players on their roster: Bishop Gorman grads Johnathan Loyd and Ben Carter and Findlay Prep’s Dominic Artis.
Carter is a freshman forward who bypassed UNLV, choosing instead to join Loyd, a junior guard, in the Northwest. Both guys are friends with Rebels senior guard Anthony Marshall, who said he keeps tabs on buddies.
“Anytime me and Johnathan match up, it’s always fun,” Marshall said. “He’s like a little brother to me. Anytime you’re playing against a friend, it adds a little something to the game; you just want to go out and dominate them and make a statement.”
Loyd has started three of Oregon’s four games, while Carter comes off the bench for just more than 13 minutes per game. Both guys average about three points per game.
Artis has flourished early in his collegiate career, averaging 10 points per game while starting every game and leading the team in steals with two per game. It comes as little surprise to former Findlay teammate Anthony Bennett, who’s having a nice start of his own for UNLV.
“Got to contain him,” Bennett said. “… He’s a good team player; he’s going to look for everybody on the court.”
While Marshall should spend plenty of time guarding Loyd and Artis, Bennett’s assignment will include trying to shut down the engines that really make the Ducks go. Seniors E.J. Singler, a 6-foot-6 forward, and 6-11 center Tony Woods average a combined 24.8 points per game. There’s also 6-11 junior center Waverly Austin, who’s a load on the block at 270 pounds.
“They just keep coming,” Rice said of Oregon’s depth.
No matter the outcome, UNLV has to turn around and play again less than 24 hours after the Oregon game ends. It’s not unlike a conference tournament setup, where there’s both a quick turnaround and an unknown as to the next opponent. That means the coaches will have a full scouting report on either Cincinnati or Iowa State, but the players will get only a few “special actions” to prepare for.
“We will put a basic, very rudimentary scouting report together for our players,” Rice said.
Of course, there’s also the conditioning to worry about. The Rebels have had six days in between games to rest up and prepare. This team prides itself on playing up-tempo. But this early in the year, are they prepared to do that essentially twice in one day?
“We really don’t have a choice,” Marshall said, “we’ve got to be ready.”