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December 18, 2017

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Ray Brewer: From the Pressbox


Instant analysis: A great opening night for UNLV basketball


Sam Morris

UNLV’s Brice Massamba celebrates a play behind Anthony Marshall against UC Riverside during the first half of the Rebels’ season opener Friday at the Thomas & Mack.

UNLV vs. UCR Basketball

UNLV guard Anthony Marshall and the rest of the bench cheer on a play against UC Riverside during the Rebels' season opener Friday at the Thomas & Mack. The Rebels cruised to a 85-41 victory. Launch slideshow »
The Rebel Room

UCR POSTGAME: Quite the debut

Ryan Greene and Ray Brewer break down what was a more lopsided than normal opener for UNLV, as the Rebels' offseason improvements were all on display in an 85-41 thrashing of lowly UC Riverside. The guys give you numbers and analysis, plus a look at how Tre'Von Willis fits back into the rotation next week and what's going on with freshman Karam Mashour.

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While the UNLV basketball team’s 85-41 victory Friday against visiting UC Riverside might not be an accurate gauge in handicapping the rest of the season, there were several bright spots that will surely carry over to future games.

UC Riverside wasn’t much of an opening-night opponent because its players lacked experience. In fact, its lone returner from last year blew out his knee in practice two days ago and was lost for the season.

Still, you have to give UNLV credit for the way it won. They were aggressive and athletic in racing up and down the court, closing the first half on an 18-3 run in leading 42-19 at halftime.

It wasn’t one player who stole the show for the Rebels. And that balance is one of the biggest reasons to be optimistic.

When you consider senior guard Tre’Von Willis, an All-Mountain West Conference preseason selection who is widely considered the Rebels’ best player, missed the game as part of a suspension, the contributions from several players is even more significant.

The Rebels starting unit — Oscar Bellfield, Chase Stanback, Anthony Marshall, Quintrell Thomas and Derrick Jasper — were on the same page and had confidence in each other to make plays. Here’s a thought: When Willis returns later this month, turn him into the sixth man, someone who enters after the first timeout and provides a change of pace.

Here are some more observations from the game. As usual, I welcome your feedback and comments.

1) Pushing the ball up the court: Greg Anthony, the point guard on UNLV’s 1990 national championship team, welcomed the crowd to the arena before the game with a prerecorded message on the video billboard. He made reference to how the team would be back to the program’s traditional "runnin" ways. The players didn’t disappoint, literally outracing Riverside players to the offensive end in transition to create several easy baskets. It’s a fun brand of basketball to watch and something that could continue in future games. Several UNLV players are great passers and ultra-athletic — two musts in transition.

2) A confident Oscar: Oscar Bellfield showed flashes of greatness toward the end of last year — and that was while being slowed by a knee injury. Competing healthy, he was one of the biggest difference makers. He controlled the pace of the game from his point guard position, played tough-as-nails defense and connected on three 3-pointers. He has a certain swagger about him that will be crucial later in the season when the Rebels’ schedule gets tougher. His stat-line of 15 points and five assists is an impressive debut, but not nearly as impressive as his leadership as the floor general.

3) Quintrell makes an immediate impact: Kansas transfer Quintrell Thomas had eight points and five rebounds in 19 minutes in his UNLV debut. More importantly, was the toughness the 6-foot-8, 245-pound big body brought to the game — a toughness that was contagious with teammates. The Rebels lacked that physical presence last year in often being pushed around on the inside (see the San Diego State game in the league tournament). However, with Thomas occupying the center of the lane, it was a different story. Sure, the performance came against UC Riverside, but you could sense that UNLV’s interior players had a new-found confidence. UNLV out-rebounded Riverside 47-39 — a great start moving forward for a team that frequently struggled on the interior last year.

4) Long range shooting: UNLV connected on six of its 17 attempts from 3-point range in answering one of the biggest questions entering the contest. After its top returning long-range shooters — Kendall Wallace (knee) and Matt Shaw (dismissed from team) — were lost in the offseason, it was common to wonder where the 3-point shooting would come from. Well, the Rebels connected on 12 of 24 shots in two exhibition games and continued its accurate shooting Friday. Bellfield, Marshall and Stanback will definitely be able to shoulder the burden of draining the outside shot.

5) Great entrance: The players running onto court at the Thomas & Mack Center minutes before tipoff on the red carpet is one of the best traditions in college basketball. It got a little better Friday. Sophomore Justin Hawkins was waving a gigantic American flag while leading the way. It was a classy touch to start a great opening night.

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