Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013 | noon
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There was a lot of talk at the beginning of conference season about the Rebels’ brutal opening four-game stretch, which included trips to New Mexico, San Diego State and Colorado State. Of course, that meant UNLV (20-7, 7-5) would get all three clustered together in the Thomas & Mack Center on the way back, and now that it’s all over, you have to call it a success.
Following Wednesday's 61-59 victory, UNLV went 4-2 against those teams, which currently rank first (UNM, 9-2), second (CSU, 8-3) and third (SDSU, 7-5) in the Mountain West. The Rebels are tied with the Aztecs, whom they swept in the regular-season series.
Just getting to the conference tournament title game in March will likely require defeating one of these teams again for the right to face another one of them. If that scenario plays out, the Rebels should have confidence against any one of those teams, considering the games are played in the Mack.
Anthony Marshall’s first game-winner
I was kind of surprised Wednesday night when the senior point guard said that his go-ahead jumper with nine seconds left was the first game-winner of his 128-game UNLV career.
While that certainly seems plausible, I felt I had seen him take so many late-game shots that surely one of them had to drop in with the game one the line. But glancing through the last two years of play-by-plays backs him up.
He’s had some close calls — Marshall missed a game-tying layup with 10 seconds left in the loss to Oregon earlier this year and missed a layup in the finals seconds last year at Wyoming before tipping his miss out to Mike Moser, who also missed a shot — but no game-winners that I could find. There were some last-minute go-ahead shots, like the layup he made at home against SDSU last year or the free throws he hit to extend a one-point lead to three against UNR, also last season.
In late-game situations, Marshall almost always starts the possessions with the ball — he is the point guard, after all — so I think that may have skewed my memory of how many shots he’s taken with the game on the line. If I’m missing any notable situations from his first two years (or the last two) add them down in the comments.
Against both SDSU and CSU, UNLV committed exactly 17 turnovers. It’s the most in back-to-back games since the end of nonconference, when the Rebels committed 17, 21, 19 and 17 turnovers, starting with the loss at North Carolina and ending with the loss at New Mexico.
Turnovers are always going to be a part of UNLV’s offense, but the number is too high both on its face and because the Rebels don’t really play fast enough to justify turning the ball over about one out of every five possessions.
Only 35 percent of the Rebels’ shots come within the first 10 seconds of the shot clock off turnovers, rebounds or an opponents’ score, according to hoop-math.com. That’s less than the percentage of shots between 11-35 seconds of the shot clock after a made shot (36), let alone all of the other scenarios.
UNLV ranks last in the conference and in the bottom 85 of the country in turnovers per game (14.7). That’s balanced somewhat by top-10 assists numbers (17 per game, currently tied for sixth in the nation), though a lot of those are just the result of the way the Rebels play. So are the turnovers, to a degree, but more than 15 is always too many. The fact UNLV has committed double-digit turnovers in every game this season says something, and it’s obviously not good. In a lot of those games, it’s not necessarily a bad thing — UNLV coach Dave Rice wants the team to take risks — but it’s not good, either.
It would be a positive thing to see the Rebels work on valuing the basketball a little more in the final four regular season games, especially on the road, where good shots are harder to come by and possessions are more valuable.
Odds and ends
• “Even though his numbers don’t stand out his leadership does. We’re a different team (when he leads),” Rice said.
Any guesses whom Rice was referring to?
At this time last year, Moser had 13 double-doubles on his way to a first-team all-conference spot. This year, he has three double-doubles and Rice is taking time to commend him on a game in which he played 12 minutes with two points, one rebound and three fouls.
It’s amazing when you consider just how much has changed for Moser in the past year. Obviously, Rice and the team still very much value Moser’s contributions off the court, but to be this late in the year without getting much on-court production from him game-to-game is startling when compared to last season.
• It’s going to seem like I’m trolling here, but honestly watching this blocking call live I thought it was either a no call or a travel on Greg Smith. But after seeing the replay, which was posted to point out how bad it was, I can see how you could justify a blocking foul. Anthony Bennett flopped, which caused Smith to fall over.
• I don’t mean to keep harping on this, but after going 0-for-3 against CSU, senior guard Justin Hawkins is now 1-for-25 on 3-point attempts in his last 10 games. That stretch includes four of the Rebels’ seven losses, and while those aren’t directly connected there’s certainly a correlation.
Hawkins used to be counted on to hit one or two big 3-pointers in a close game, but right now he’s a liability when pulling up for a shot, because those are a lot of empty possessions.
• There was a stark difference between how Rice and CSU coach Larry Eustachy used their rotations Wednesday.
Eustachy used only seven guys, an extremely short bench that saw everyone play at least 17 minutes. Meanwhile, Rice used 11 guys with all six off the bench playing less than 17 minutes each.
Most coaches shorten their rotation around the start of league play but Rice seems to still like using a lot of guys in the first half to get his regulars a brief rest. He also has made more of an effort to get freshman Savon Goodman on the court.
Goodman played 16 minutes, his career high in league play. Also notable was that Marshall played only 29 minutes, the first time he’s been under the 30-minute mark since Jan. 3 against Chicago State.