Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013 | 10:10 p.m.
- BOX SCORE: UNLV 62, Wyoming 50
- Rebels welcome in a compelling Wyoming squad
- Moser confident despite sitting at the end of UNLV’s two previous games
- UNLV Extras: Team shooting better on the road than last season
- By the Numbers: UNLV’s loss at CSU contains many conflicting figures
- UNLV couldn’t keep Colorado State from playing its game in road loss
- Perimeter defense could be key against very tough Colorado State squad
- UNLV Extras: Rebels’ challenge now is to avoid emotional letdown
- Quirky lineup and determined point guard led UNLV to victory at SDSU
- All UNLV men's basketball coverage
Options are as important in basketball as they are at a buffet. The more options you have, the better your chance of finding the right combination.
UNLV sampled a little bit of everything Thursday night at the Thomas & Mack Center, eventually loading up its plate with a pile of Quintrell Thomas. That decision left the Rebels (16-4, 3-2) fat and happy by the end of a 62-50 victory against Wyoming (15-3, 2-3).
The Cowboys had no such choices. While the Rebels tried things like moving Anthony Marshall to shooting guard so Daquan Cook could get more minutes at the point, Wyoming worked its same players into the ground with little help from the bench. UNLV played eight guys at least 15 minutes. Wyoming had five guys reach that milestone, and all of them were on the court at least 32 minutes.
“One of the good things about this team is most players would start on another team,” said Thomas, who scored 13 points on 6-for-8 shooting with five rebounds in 22 minutes. “Teams have a lot to worry about whenever they play us.”
Wyoming struck first with an eight-point lead less than three minutes in. After that, UNLV dictated things most of the way. The slow pace the Cowboys prefer worked well enough to keep them close at halftime but the Rebels wore them down in the second half.
UNLV pulled away mostly by doing two things that coaches preach: playing defense and grabbing rebounds. The rebounding advantage is right there in the box score, showing the Rebels ahead 34-20.
As for defense, senior guard Justin Hawkins, who’s known as a great on-ball defender, came off the bench and gave the Cowboys’ guards little space to breathe, let alone drive past him. And on the inside, Wyoming’s leading scorers Leonard Washington and Larry Nance Jr. struggled the longer they played.
Washington drifted out of the paint and took eight 3-point attempts, making just two, and Nance took only two second-half shots after leading all scorers with 14 at the break. They combined for 29 points but it took them 23 shots to get there, and without other options off the bench it wasn’t nearly enough.
Thomas was the guy frustrating Washington while freshman Anthony Bennett, who had a team-leading 17 points and five rebounds, played some of the best defense of his career in controlling Nance.
“A key was taking pride individually and saying, ‘My man is not going to score on me,’ ” UNLV coach Dave Rice said.
That mentality best describes the way Thomas desires to play all the time. No matter the game, ask him about his role and he’ll say it’s to play defense and rebound. Only sometimes does he throw in ‘Score when I have a chance,’ and with Wyoming crashing down on Bennett this was one of those chances.
When a double team came early in the second half, Bennett found a streaking Thomas for an easy dunk. Marshall, who had 12 points and nine assists, did the same off a post-up that drew attention while Thomas came running in for another dunk that put UNLV up by 12 with less than 10 minutes left.
Rice said that before the game he had a feeling Thomas could play a larger role because of how physical Washington and the Cowboys like to play down low. Thomas’ offensive output was a bonus.
“He is our best one-on-one low post defender,” Rice said. “He steps up to every challenge.”
Thomas is having the most up-and-down season of an up-and-down career. The fifth-year senior is on his third collegiate coach after starting his career at Kansas. With Mike Moser injured, he started seven games earlier this year. However, prior to Thursday he had played less than 10 minutes in four of the last five games, including not getting off the bench against Air Force. He hadn’t played more than 12 since Dec. 17, which, not coincidentally, is when sophomore Khem Birch became eligible.
“It’s hard when you’re a guy who’s played significant minutes at various times of the year and now your minutes have been cut way back. That’s a hard deal,” Rice said. “It’s one of the most important things being part of a team, figuring out how to deal with that.”
Thomas has mostly taken a backseat to Birch, often splitting time with junior Carlos Lopez-Sosa, who didn’t play Thursday. When his name is called, though, Thomas proved he’s still got some moves.
“He’s been doing this his whole career,” Marshall said. “He’s not going to take a play off.”
Birch played only two second-half minutes not because of anything he did wrong, Rice just went with the hot hand. Thomas and Hawkins combined to outscore Wyoming’s bench 19-7, and while he didn’t score, Cook dished out two assists and looked more comfortable than he ever has against Division I competition.
Like Thomas, Cook doesn’t know how much he’ll play Tuesday at home against UNR or in the game after that. That’s life as an option for the Rebels. It could also be the key to surviving a league race that’s going to leave more than a few teams and players beaten and bruised by the end of the year.
The more choices Rice has, the better the Rebels’ buffet.