Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Thursday, Nov. 18, 2010 | 2:15 a.m.
Ryan Greene and Ray Brewer break down UNLV's final tune-up for Saturday's highly-anticipated game against Wisconsin — a 92-56 ripping of Southeastern Louisiana. The guys discuss, among other things, the progress of the Rebels' big men, where Tre'Von Willis fits into the rotation come this weekend and the future of freshman wing Karam Mashour.
For the 774th time, "the streak" lived on for the UNLV men's basketball program.
But if Wednesday night's 92-56 stomping of Southeastern Louisiana was any indication of what's to come, it won't be the last time this season that the fans are sweating out keeping the Rebels' NCAA record for consecutive games with a 3-pointer made growing.
And it's not necessarily a bad thing, but rather a sign that times are simply changing.
"It's showing that we're a good team and we don't need to look for 3-pointers to win a game," junior forward Brice Massamba said. "We can just be more aggressive taking the ball to the basket, getting and-ones or to the free throw line.
"It's pretty fun."
At times in recent years, especially last season, the Rebels have had a tendency to both live and die by the 3-pointer.
On Wednesday, hitting one against the Lions became a novelty after an insurmountable lead was built by early in the second half using everything but the long ball.
Southeastern Louisiana, a scrappy veteran team that won 19 games a year ago, hung with UNLV for much of the first half by way of the trey, hitting six of them to score 18 of their first 21 points.
But with the game tied at 21-21, the tides changed.
Derrick Jasper hit a 15-foot jumper to put the Rebels ahead, and play stopped right after that. UNLV's Chace Stanback got tangled up underneath the hoop with Southeastern Louisiana's Jason Marks, things got heated and words were exchanged. Referees met at the scorer's table and watched the video replay, which showed Marks throwing an elbow at Stanback's neck. It resulted in a flagrant foul on Marks along with an ejection from the game.
Though that wasn't necessarily a visible spark for UNLV, the Rebels accelerated their pace and closed out the half from there on a 23-8 run.
While the Lions continued to successfully apply defensive pressure on the perimeter, the athletic Rebel guards were able to get by and take advantage of an exposed interior with a bevy of easy buckets.
"That's a tribute to our big men, and defenses have to play us honest now," Marshall said. "It opens up lanes for everybody to drive and finish or kick it out. It's a very nice luxury to have."
It was, in fact, a nice night offensively for the Rebels' trio of big men. Carlos Lopez, Massamba and Quintrell Thomas combined for 26 points on 10-of-14 shooting. Massamba shone the brightest, scoring 12 points on 4-of-6 shooting, including a pair of rare 15-foot jumpers. He worked on the mid-range shot all summer in an effort to expand his offensive game and contributed five rebounds and four assists.
Not long after the margin got out of hand, the focus of the 10,334 in attendance shifted to keeping the 3-point run alive.
For about the final 15 minutes of the game clock, every time the UNLV guards brought the ball across the timeline, a heavy sector of the crowd began chanting the word "three."
"We heard them," Marshall said with a grin. "They were pretty loud, also."
The guy who calmed the the fans' nerves — Stanback, from the left corner, with 7:42 left to play — wasn't aware of the "need" to keep the streak going until Massamba said something to him on the sideline.
After doing so, he pointed to the crowd, which rose in unison to its feet and provided the wildest ovation to this point in the young 2010-11 season. UNLV remains the only program to have hit a three in every game it's played since the line was introduced into college basketball before the 1986-87 season.
"It means a lot to everybody — coaches, players and fans," Stanback said. "We just want to keep that streak alive, do whatever we can to do that, but more importantly think about the game (at hand)."
Chances are that if the Rebels are mired in a similar 3-point drought come Saturday afternoon, keeping it alive will be the last thing on anyone's mind.
The two tune-ups are now out of the way, and UNLV (2-0) will host Wisconsin (2-0) in a 4 p.m. matinee — the Rebels' biggest home non-conference game of the season. The Badgers are ranked 25th in the current ESPN/USA Today coaches poll and are just on the outside in the AP Top 25 listings.
It will be the first major test for both teams, as Bo Ryan's club blew through its first two games against Prairie View A&M (99-55) and North Dakota (85-53). Normally a defense-oriented team that wins tough, physical games by scoring in the 50s, their first two outings have shown that they will be able to match up well with the Rebels' up-and-down style and deep back-court.
That group of guards was again in fine form on Wednesday and showed that no one was specifically looking ahead to Saturday's showdown.
Well, at least not until right after the game, when Marshall and Stanback both admitted that they immediately thought of Wisconsin.
Marshall led the Rebels with 14 points, also registering five rebounds and two assists. Derrick Jasper added eight points and six boards, while Justin Hawkins was again a super-sub of sorts, totaling 11 points, five rebounds, four assists and no turnovers in 26 minutes.
And, just for fun, one streak survives to see another game.
"We felt like in the second half, we played much better than in the first half," Marshall said. "These next two days in practice, we've really got to grow as a team, get better and keep up the intensity that we had last week going into this game against a very tough opponent."
• Making his official UNLV debut days after deciding not to take a redshirt this season, 6-foot-6 wing Karam Mashour took a little while to get going. In five first-half minutes, he didn't register a stat of any kind while looking visibly nervous, especially on the defensive end. In the second half, Mashour broke the ice by hitting an awkward 10-foot jumper in the lane, then added four easy buckets while growing more and more confident as the game went on. He finished with 10 points, one rebound, two assists, two steals and a block but still has a ways to go before moving up the deep rotation of perimeter players.
• Kruger confirmed after the game that last year's leading scorer and first team All-Mountain West Conference performer Tre'Von Willis will return on Saturday against Wisconsin as a reserve, with Marshall remaining the team's starting two-guard for the time being. The senior averaged 17.2 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.5 assists last season.
• Stats of note from Wednesday night: UNLV shot 62.5 percent from the floor, hitting 35-of-56 attempts ... While the Rebels were only 1-of-8 from 3-point range, Southeastern Louisiana was 9-of-28 from deep ... Quintrell Thomas scored seven points for UNLV but fouled out after playing only eight minutes. He picked up a third foul in the first half while the Rebels had a sub waiting at the scorer's table to take him out of the game ... UNLV out-rebounded Southeastern Louisiana by a margin of 42-29 ... Trent Hutchin scored 18 points for the Lions, while Brandon Fortenberry added 16. Each of the them hit four 3-pointers.