Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Sunday, Dec. 19, 2010 | 2:15 a.m.
- Box Score: UNLV 72, Southern Utah 50
- Live Game Blog: UNLV snaps two-game skid with 72-50 rout of Southern Utah
- Likely without Jasper, UNLV out to snap out of recent funk against Southern Utah (12-17-2010)
- Cold-shooting UNLV drops second straight, falling to UCSB, 68-62 (12-16-2010)
- Findlay Prep sophomore guard Nigel Williams-Goss verbally commits to UNLV (12-15-2010)
- 2010-11 UNLV Schedule
- All Sun UNLV men's basketball coverage
But even though there was less energy than normal from the home crowd and, well, just not as much general buzz about the game as is typically the case, the 72-50 whipping the Rebels (10-2) put on the Thunderbirds (3-8) was just what Lon Kruger's team needed.
UNLV snapped an unsightly two-game losing skid and got a little bit of its swagger back in time for Tuesday's game against No. 6 Kansas State, which is the unquestioned highlight on this year's non-conference slate.
"We needed this. We needed to bounce back," UNLV redshirt freshman center Carlos Lopez said. "There's still a lot of room to improve, but we did a good job. Tomorrow, we'll work more and try to improve a little bit more."
As they did in many several games before getting a notch in the loss column for the first time last Saturday, the Rebels set the tone early on defense and were efficient on the other end, maintaining good energy all the while.
UNLV got out to a double-digit lead just over 10 minutes into the game, led 37-18 at the break and led by 20 or more for the game's last 16 minutes.
But two guys who gained maybe the most from the experience were Lopez and sophomore guard Anthony Marshall.
The potential gain for Marshall was known coming in, as he started in place of senior Derrick Jasper on the wing as a "point forward" of sorts.
Jasper, who suffered a mild right knee hyperextension in the second half of Wednesday's loss to UC Santa Barbara, will be back for the K-State game, but in his absence, Marshall rediscovered his strengths.
Scoring a game-high 17 points, Marshall was efficient by using his athletic ability to slash to the hoop and both finish and create for others as Jasper normally does. He was 6-of-9 from the floor, even mixing in a pair of outside jumpers in the effort.
Marshall's struggles in shooting from the outside were well-documented during his freshman season, and since then, he's worked tirelessly on that area of his game.
While the shot has improved some in appearance, he's been streaky with it as a sophomore. By filling in for Jasper, Marshall got back to his roots on Saturday night in a role that he thrived in late last season.
"I just tried to be more active, get into seams and create for others," he said. "It turned out that the defense was respecting my teammates so much that I was able to get easy layups and stuff like that."
Added Kruger: "He was balanced tonight when he was attacking, which was good. He drove the ball to the bucket, gave himself opportunities to finish plays instead of committing to a play. He's been doing a better job of that and tonight I thought he looked really sharp.."
Marshall recorded a pair of steals, too, while registering three assists and no turnovers. He also spelled junior Oscar Bellfield a bit at the point.
It was a nice reset for Marshall, while Lopez hopes that his big night can be something he launches from moving forward.
Lopez got a boost by producing career highs in points (12) and rebounds (11) against a Southern Utah front line that he was able to overpower physically.
Wanting to impress his mother, Gladys, who was visiting for the week from Puerto Rico, Lopez's confidence visibly grew the more his teammates turned to him in the second half. He executed several nice post moves and even threw down a vicious two-handed slam.
The Rebels' big men have been inconsistent for much of the season, but maybe more than any group on the roster needed a strong night leading up to the trip to face the Wildcats.
Kansas State, with a corps led by senior Curtis Kelly and junior Jamar Samuels, features the deepest, most rugged frontcourt UNLV will face this season behind only San Diego State.
"It's good to have a double-double, but it feels good to see teammates come together for the game," Lopez said of the group effort. "I'm more happy about that."
Fellow big Quintrell Thomas played 19 minutes and wound up with six points and seven rebounds, while on the perimeter, Bellfield ran the show cleanly with six points, three steals and five assists across from just one turnover.
UNLV's top producer off of the bench was sophomore guard Justin Hawkins, who in 23 minutes had eight points, three assists, no turnovers and a game-high four steals.
Defensively, the Rebels forced 22 turnovers and held the Thunderbirds to 34.7 percent shooting, including a 6-of-24 showing in the first half.
But K-State will provide a whole different type of challenge, to say the least.
On Saturday, the Wildcats suffered a 57-44 loss on the road against Florida that was eerily similar to UNLV's setback against UCSB. K-State shot just 27.3 percent from the floor, was 3-of-19 from long range and 11-of-19 at the line.
Still, they'll enter the game at 9-2 and, despite the location two hours east of their Manhattan, Kan., campus, will be playing in front of a home crowd.
Aside from attacking that powerful frontcourt, UNLV will have to try and contain senior Jacob Pullen, who lit the Rebels up for 28 points in last year's meeting at the Orleans Arena and is one of the nation's top backcourt talents.
In that 95-80 Wildcat win that wasn't even as close as the final score indicated, K-State couldn't seem to miss a shot and pushed UNLV around from start to finish with its physical style.
The Rebels believe that this time around, they're better equipped to bang around with the Wildcats.
Now they have a little added confidence heading in, too.
"I actually watched the game at home after shoot-around," Marshall said of K-State's setback. "We've just got to make it tough for them, make them compete for shots on offense and work on defense."