Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Friday, Feb. 1, 2013 | 1:08 a.m.
- Rebel senior speaks at middle school in between games
- UNLV Extras: Breaking down Marshall’s minutes and Moser’s role
- Birch bounces off the bench to lead Rebels in 12-point victory against Wolf Pack
- Cook’s development gives Rebels more potential lineup options vs. UNR
- UNLV Extras: Backup freshman enjoys possible breakthrough game
- Rebels find the right combination for satisfying victory against Wyoming
- All UNLV men's basketball coverage
Dave Rice wants to score easy points. UNLV’s opponents want to do everything possible to prevent exactly that.
That’s the basis for a battle the Rebels (17-4, 4-2) will wage the rest of the season, starting with Saturday’s game at Boise State (14-6, 2-4) on Time Warner Cable SportsNet at 6 p.m. Las Vegas time.
Rice wants to turn his league-leading defense into points at the other end with transition possessions that push opponents on their heels. The counter UNLV often sees is teams that forgo crashing more than one or two guys to the rim for offensive rebounds, instead sending most of their players back as soon as the shot goes up to prevent the Rebels’ run outs. Think of it like cherry picking in pickup basketball, except guys are leaking out to stop open layups instead of take them.
There’s only so much the Rebels can do in transition when the defense gets back and gets set. Still, Rice wants them to do more.
“We don’t do a good enough job of being efficient in offensive transition off of defensive stops,” he said. “… That’s the place we need the greatest improvement.”
That will be difficult to accomplish Saturday for a number of reasons, starting with the Broncos’ pace. Boise State is just above the national average for adjusted tempo, according to kenpom.com. The Broncos average 67.1 possessions per game compared to the Rebels’ 70.1.
And the Broncos may try to slow it down even more if they have to play without junior guard Jeff Elorriaga, who missed three of the last four games with concussion-like symptoms. Boise basically played Wednesday’s 20-point loss at Colorado State without both Elorriaga, who would lead the nation in offensive rating if he played more minutes, and leading scorer Derrick Marks, who played only nine minutes because he was suffering from the flu.
“Those are two important cogs in their attack,” Rice said.
Rice said he anticipates Elorriaga will play, though with concussion-related injuries it’s tough to predict anything with much confidence. Another likelihood is the Rebels will start the game the same as they did in Tuesday’s victory against UNR — Anthony Marshall, Katin Reinhardt, Bryce Dejean-Jones and Anthony Bennett — except Khem Birch will likely return to the lineup at center after coming off the bench as punishment for missing practice.
Birch was great in that victory, compiling 14 points, seven rebounds, three steals and two blocks. Birch can be a huge asset on the break because the opposing center won’t be able to run nearly as well and Birch would tower over guards trying to stop him in the paint. However, he knows those opportunities could be few and far between.
“I feel like it’s dependent on how well Boise State gets back,” Birch said. “You can’t run transition if they don’t rebound, but if they try to rebound we’re going to go.”
Last year at Taco Bell Arena the Rebels won 77-72 with a big help from Mike Moser's 18 points and 21 rebounds. It was the first of two back-to-back overtime victories on the road (the Rebels then won by two at Air Force), the only conference wins UNLV would claim away from the Thomas & Mack Center all season.
This year the Rebels already have one, at San Diego State, and getting a second would keep some pressure on New Mexico (18-3, 5-1), which hosts UNR on Saturday. Since every game carries so much importance right now Rice might not change how long he’s been playing Marshall without something drastic like, say, a big lead.
Marshall leads the Mountain West with 37.3 minutes per game in conference games. Rice likes keeping him out there for his defense and because the senior point guard also leads the league in assists per game (7.3) and assist-to-turnover ratio (2.2).
“Whatever the coaches need out of me,” Marshall said. “… I’m young, I’m not like 30-something and stuff so I really don’t need to manage my minutes. I’m fresh, I can go.”
There are varied opinions on whether playing this much is the best plan long term, just as there are about how well Marshall has acclimated to his role at the point after being an all-conference shooting guard last season. The total minutes are one thing, but there’s no denying there have been games UNLV wouldn’t have won without Marshall taking over in the second half. Marshall said he's always looking for a balance between finding open teammates and capitalizing on his own opportunities. The most important thing is he has Rice’s vote of confidence, which is far more important than anyone else’s opinion.
Confidence, though, doesn’t mean Rice is satisfied. Run outs often start with an outlet pass to the point guard who then has to decide whether to push it or pull up into a half-court set. It’s clear Rice wants more of the former with possessions that quickly end with UNLV “getting something.”
“It makes it harder when teams are sending two or three guys back,” Rice said, “but it still doesn’t change the fact we need to get more easy baskets.”
The Runnin’ Rebels do have a moniker to live up to, after all.