Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Friday, Nov. 20, 2009 | 2:05 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 ...
“I never panic,” said Rebels assistant coach Lew Hill. “The guys never panic. They just made a run. In basketball, it’s about runs. We needed to get a little fresh, a little energy. We went with the young guys and, boom, changed it right there.”
They combined to tally 12 points of a game-altering 23-4 run, and UNLV handed its rival an 88-75 defeat.
That the unlikely trio made such a difference might have surprised many in the stands. But after practice Thursday, Kruger’s lieutenants said there was no panic in the ensuing huddle as Kruger made his changes with 14 1/2 minutes left.
“The substitution pattern was not unlike what we’ve been doing,” said Rebels assistant coach Greg Grensing.
He expected Hawkins to deflect some passes and irritate the Wolf Pack, Marshall to attack and be aggressive, and Jones to provide a boost of energy.
That happened, in spades.
“But until they’ve been in the fire and done it a few times, you are left to wonder exactly how they’ll respond. Am I surprised how they responded? They practice that way all the time,” Grensing said.
“They’ve been consistent. They’ve been fearless. So it isn’t shock. But you’re always pleasantly surprised to see them, under those terms of adversity, handle it so well. They got it turned around pretty quickly.”
Ten seconds after getting back on the floor, Jones slipped in a layup among some firs on the left side. Back on defense, Marshall stripped the ball from Dario Hunt.
Right away, at both ends, it clicked.
“We needed to do something,” said assistant Steve Henson. “We had to call a timeout and get fresh bodies in there. We needed life and energy. They got in there and we couldn’t have asked them to do anything better.
“It all came together the way you dream of it happening.”
UNR came up empty on five consecutive possessions as UNLV scored on five of its six possessions after the terrific trio went into the game.
Jones missed a layup the only time the Rebels failed to score with the infusion of youth and aggression. Jones capped the 11-0 run, getting UNLV within 54-53, with a 3-point shot from the left side.
“We’ve got the depth,” Hill said. “That’s what makes this team have a pretty good chance in the future. If one unit isn’t doing well, we’ll try to find a spark. The next game, it might be something different.
“But we never panic.”
No words from pop, yet
Chopper Jones slept soundly Wednesday night. “Like a baby,” he said.
By late Thursday afternoon, he hadn’t spoken with his father, television hoops analyst Steve “Snapper” Jones.
“Went straight to bed,” Chopper said. “Had classes this morning. Lifted weights. I’ll call him today.”
It fits the former teammate of Kevin Kruger at Arizona State that Jones would be matter-of-factly ho-hum about making such an impact in only his second game as a Rebel.
At Arizona State, he scored 12 of his career 23 points as a Sun Devil in one game, against Cal State San Bernardino on Nov. 15, 2006. Wednesday, he finished with those five points.
As has been well documented in his brief UNLV career, the energy Jones provides can’t be measured. Last season, as a redshirt, teammates named him the team’s most inspirational player.
“Onto the next one,” he said. “Done the business already, but it was fun. A good time.”
He did get a congratulatory text message from Kevin Kruger, who is playing for a pro team in Naples, Italy, after the game.
“Typical Kevin,” Jones said.
Hawkins is the lone Rebel to score in double figures in both of UNLV’s first two games. He had 11 points in the opener against Pittsburg State and 13 against the Wolf Pack.
Will that continue?
“Maybe,” he said. “It’s early. We’ve only played two games. You never know.”
Eager to find his role on the deep squad before the season, Hawkins said he is still navigating his way in his rookie campaign.
“All of the upperclassmen keep telling me, 'Do what you’ve got to do to be out on the floor,'” he said. “They keep giving me respect and keep me up when I’m down in practice. I think I’ll do well the rest of the season.
“I’m easing into it, game by game. It’s still young in the season. My role isn’t defined yet.”
Of at least a dozen point-blank misses by the Rebels on Wednesday, the one by the local product might have been the most egregious.
“I hadn’t done that since somewhere around my junior year on an alley-oop,” Marshall said. “I surprised myself when I jumped. I haven’t exploded like that in a long time. I got up and, really, I just thought I’d put it in instead of dunking with authority.
“I probably should have dunked with authority and it would have went in.”
Five minutes earlier, he missed a layup. So he felt like the dunk would be redemption. Three minutes after the errant jam, he missed another close shot.
He stayed late Thursday, shooting jumpers and free throws.
“We’re getting good looks, they just happen to go in and out sometimes,” Marshall said. “We have to play through that and keep going hard. I’m determined to make my easy buckets.
“There are a lot of wide-open shots I’m missing, so I stay after practice and put up extra shots. We have such good drivers, that leaves gaps open for shots that I’m missing.”
A lot to like
Junior forward Matt Shaw said a home crowd that might have been very curious about some new faces and different combinations likely came away from the Mack late Wednesday night quite satisfied.
“They’ll probably like more and more players,” Shaw said. “It was only the second game, but that was pretty intense. It felt like a late-season game. It shows how competitive we are.
“Luckily, the crowd got into it pretty quick. They definitely helped us get going. We’re thankful we had a good crowd. It’s easier once the crowd gets going. They pick up our intensity and we have more fun with it.”