Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Thursday, Nov. 19, 2009 | 2:27 a.m.
Ryan Greene, Christine Killimayer and Rob Miech break down an 88-75 UNLV victory which turned on a dime from a slugfest into a track meet on Wednesday night at the Thomas & Mack Center. It was all the result of a gamble made by coach Lon Kruger with the Rebels trailing by 12 with 15 minutes to play ...
Anthony Marshall and Justin Hawkins came to UNLV because they wanted the chance to play right away.
They were promised nothing but were told by Rebels coach Lon Kruger that they would earn what game-time minutes they deserved based on how they practiced.
“That was real big,” Hawkins said. “Anywhere else, I’d sit down a lot. That’s NOT what I do. My pride won’t let me sit down. Coming here, I might play a little but I’d have to work for what I get.
“That’s what I do in practice. We work hard to do what we do, and we’re pushed by ‘Chop,’ Kendall, Tre, Derrick … everybody. All the guards push us to the extreme.”
So it was poetic that UNLV coach Lon Kruger’s reserves pushed the Rebels (2-0) to a stirring second-half comeback in an 88-75 victory over UNR.
“An all-out group effort,” Marshall said. “We were down, and the first team was kind of fatigued. We felt we had to put it all out there on the floor and try to exert ourselves as much as we could.
“We’ve got to have that every night early in the season. We’re trying to find our identity. We could have easily rolled over and let them beat us, but we tried to find our identity. We want to be a team that fights.”
That’s what Kruger said to his players during the critical timeout he called early in the second half, when UNR had just taken a 54-42 lead.
In the decisive 23-4 run that followed, Hawkins scored eight points and Marshall added four.
Hawkins, who scored 11 points in his college debut Saturday night against Pittsburg State, tallied 13 on Wednesday. He’s the lone Rebel to hit double figures in scoring in both of the Rebels’ games.
“We just banded together,” he said. “We knew we had to get together as a family, as a team, and dig down deep, like we aren’t losing this game. No one beats us in our house. That’s exactly what we did.”
A basketball player
Since when did a walk-on achieve such status?
Asked about Steve “Chopper” Jones, Hawkins didn’t hesitate. How about Rene Rougeau last season?
Told that Rougeau was rewarded with a scholarship as a senior, Hawkins, again, didn’t hesitate. Rougeau earned that as a walk-on, with the desire and hustle he showed in practice and games.
Jones almost looks manic on the court. He’s always moving, always looking left or right, always fidgeting and always talking.
He was the first reserve that Kruger put into Saturday’s opener against Pittsburg State. With Hawkins and Marshall, Jones was part of Kruger’s second move to his bench Wednesday night.
“I don’t look at him like a walk-on,” Hawkins said of Jones. “I look at him as a basketball player. He pushes us every day in practice. He brings energy, and he’s one of the most talkative players on the team.
“He gets us started on the defensive end. With him, we just keep on pushing.”
Jones acquired his nickname from Kevin Kruger, when both played at Arizona State. UNLV coach Lon Kruger’s son, of course, wound up coming to Las Vegas and leading the Rebels to a Sweet 16.
Early on in Tempe, Ariz., the younger Kruger yelled “Pork Chop!” to Jones, who was carrying a few extra pounds. They laughed. The name, shortened to “Chop” at UNLV, stuck.
Centers push back
Once again, UNLV’s combination of big men played solid, and some of their rebounds and inside shots were decisive and powerful.
Darris Santee, Brice Massamba and Matt Shaw combined to score 16 points and grab 15 boards against the Wolf Pack.
Saturday, the trio had 20 points and 11 rebounds.
“Between us three, we’ll work hard every day, do what we have to do,” Shaw said. “We’ll blend well together, make some shots, play defense and rebound.”
Shaw said a main point of Kruger’s at halftime was converting at close range. The Rebels missed no fewer than eight close shots in the first half. In the second, they missed four before clicking and putting UNR away.
“(Kruger) said they’d start falling,” Shaw said. “In the second half, they started falling. We got more layups. We still missed some here and there, but we hit more than we did in the first half.”
Kruger had one other major message at the half.
“We got pushed around a little bit,” Shaw said. “We talked about that at the half, how we got pushed around and how we have to come back and fight. In the second half, I think that’s what we did.”
UNLV dominated UNR in a few areas Wednesday night. The Rebels had decisive edges in points in the paint (52-24), points off turnovers (22-2) and bench production (35 points to 8) … he didn’t have many looks, because the Wolf Pack obviously scouted him well, but UNLV junior guard Kendall Wallace made the most of his one 3-point attempt. With 7:50 left, Wallace drilled a 3-pointer from the left corner to give the Rebels a 68-60 lead. Wallace poured in a career-best 16 points, on 4-of-5 shooting from beyond the arc, in Saturday’s opener. He only had the three points against UNR … after shooting 35 percent in the first half, UNLV bounced back with a 53-percent touch in the second on a slew of high-percentage conversions … at one point, Dr. Neal Smatresk, the new president of the university, walked by press row wearing a proud smile. Look at the scoreboard, he said. “It says ‘Reno,’ ” Smatresk said of the visitors’ area on the board. Apparently, it had read “Nevada” early in the game. Who changed that? Smatresk broke out a sly smile, then he walked away.