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October 24, 2021

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Rebels basketball:

Notebook: Rebels avoid ‘curse,’ enjoy new-look uniforms

After plenty of lobbying, players receive coveted black jerseys in time for trip

UNLV vs. Illinois State

UNLV's Oscar Bellfield (0) drives around Illinois State's Kenyon Smith during Wednesday's game in Normal, Ill. Launch slideshow »

NORMAL, Ill. — There’s allegedly a “curse” within the UNLV men’s basketball program when it comes to wearing black uniforms.

They haven’t been worn by a Rebels team in more than a decade, but players in recent years, for reasons unknown, craved them and lobbied with the coaching staff for them.

Before taking off for Wednesday’s game at Illinois State, they got them.

“We all liked it. Everybody liked it,” junior forward Chace Stanback said. “We’ve been asking for it for a long time, and we kind of joked around about it before coming over here, and they surprised us with them. Coach said something about (the curse) before the game. But ultimately, we just had to come out and play hard.”

Play hard they did, as UNLV (7-0) diced ISU (5-2) in 82-51 fashion.

Thus, the Rebels may have earned the right to wear them again.

The all-black duds, which were accented by tall black socks and black Nikes, gave UNLV a bit of motivation for a game that many might have looked at as one that was tough to get up for.

Instead, from the sound of it, the players were like little kids on Christmas morning when they first saw the new uniforms before departing for Illinois.

“It’s something different. You don’t really see too many schools with all black uniforms,” sophomore guard Anthony Marshall proudly said. “If we would have lost tonight, we probably wouldn’t have worn them again, so we’re happy to get the win with them so we can continue to wear them.”

If it ain’t broke...

Despite continued strong play from both Marshall and senior Tre'Von Willis, UNLV coach Lon Kruger said he has no plans of making a shift to reinsert Willis into the starting lineup.

Willis has come off of the bench for the Rebels in his five games since returning from suspension, while Marshall has thrived on both ends of the floor as a starter in all seven games this season.

“There’s no need to disrupt anything at this point,” Kruger said. “Really, we’ve got nine or 10 guys who are playing a lot of minutes, so it really doesn’t matter too much who’s out there. The depth is pretty experienced, especially when you consider Tre coming off of the bench. He makes that next five pretty effective.”

This season, Marshall is averaging 24.3 minutes per game, while Willis is getting similar burn, averaging 23.7.

Dipping into the bench

The blowout status of the game freed 10 second-half minutes for freshman swingman Karam Mashour, who had only appeared in two of the team’s first six games.

Mashour looked more comfortable on the floor than he did last time he played, which was in the second half of Thursday’s victory over Tulsa in the opener at the 76 Classic.

The 6-foot-6 Israelis scored five points, including a swished 3-pointer from the left wing in the second half, and also grabbed one rebound and recorded a steal.

Adjusted travel party

UNLV was not accompanied on the trip by strength & conditioning coach Jason Kabo.

In his place was the team’s academic advisor, David Jackson.

The extended amount of time on the road has thrown the team for a bit of a loop in the classroom, as UNLV has final exams next week, but the players have hardly been home since early last week. It’s forced plenty of missed class time.

Jackson held study hall sessions with all of the players throughout the afternoon at the Bloomington-Normal Marriott hotel leading up to Wednesday’s game.

More on UNR

The game at Nevada-Reno on Saturday night won’t have the same feel as recent tussles with the Wolf Pack, who are off to a woeful 1-5 start.

Since beating Montana to open the season, the Pack has lost to Pacific, Pepperdine, George Washington, Boston University and, most recently, South Dakota State.

UNR is clearly reeling from the losses of NBA draft picks Luke Babbitt and Armon Johnson, who both ended up with the Portland Trailblazers.

They are likely to get a boost at the conclusion of the fall semester, when 6-foot-7 Duke transfer Olek Czyz becomes eligible to play but for now, the Rebels’ top rivals are struggling mightily.

Still, UNLV doesn’t sound as if it’s approaching the game any differently.

“It’s a rivalry game. We’re going into their place, so we know the crowd’s going to be electric,” Marshall said. “We just have to go out there and do what we did tonight from the start and not wait until after the first timeout and stuff like that.”

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