UNLV basketball:

Blog: UNLV pulls out difficult 65-54 victory vs. UTEP


Sam Morris

UNLV guard Justin Hawkins dives on a loose ball during their game against the University of Texas El Paso Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2011 at the Thomas & Mack Center. UNLV won the game 65-54.

Updated Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2011 | 9:12 p.m.

UNLV overcomes slow start to beat UTEP

University of Texas El Paso guard Michael Perez finds himself surrounded by UNLV players during the first half of their game Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2011 at the Thomas & Mack Center. Launch slideshow »

This wasn't the game that UNLV was hoping for. It was, however, a victory.

The Rebels overcame poor shooting and a resilient UTEP squad to pull out a 65-54 victory.

Guard Anthony Marshall came alive in the second half, finishing with a season-high 20 points, including a punctuation dunk in the final 25 seconds. This after a first half in which the Miners dared him to shoot 3-pointers and he responded with an airball.

Bench players Justin Hawkins and Carlos Lopez were the most consistent performers all night. Lopez excelled offensively and did all of the small stuff elsewhere: yelling on defense, huddling the players during breaks in the game and in general bringing energy off the bench but a calm when it was needed.

Hawkins was his usual ferocious self defensively.

Maybe this will work out for the weekend, keeping the Rebels humble before they take on Illinois. But I'm sure they would have preferred an easier night.

UNLV takes 8-point lead into final minutes

UNLV seized momentum in the second half, but UTEP has kept fighting back. The Rebels lead 57-49 with 3:47 left in the game.

The Rebels look a lot more confident right now, yet the Miners continue to cause problems defensively and make shots at the other end. It has felt a few times now like the Rebels were about to run their opponent out of the buidling, but it just hasn't happened.

At this point UNLV looks like they will pull the game out, but even if they do, they'll leave with more questions than answers.

UNLV can't make shots, holds slim lead

The game has sped up and with that UNLV has pulled ahead. But their lead is tenuous at best, as the Rebels still aren't shooting well from the field. They lead 40-38 with 7:43 left in the game.

The lead could be larger if the Rebels would make some free throws. It's been a struggle at the line tonight just as it has been from everywhere else on the court. Again, UNLV is getting good shots (for the most part), but there's a lid on the basket and the Rebels can't figure out how to lift it.

This was supposed to be a game to tuneup for another Midwest journey on Saturday, but UNLV is getting all it can handle and future opponents can add this to the suddenly growing pile of game tape on how to defeat (or at least hang with) the Rebels.

UNLV still struggling in 2nd half vs. UTEP

The shots still aren't falling for UNLV, and UTEP is doing a great job defensively of making life hard for the Rebels, who trail 30-29 with 15:03 left in the game.

They're doing it in similar fashion to Wichita State and Wisconsin: slowing the game down. The difference is that the Miners are turning the ball over quite a bit, but UNLV just hasn't been able to turn those into run-outs as much as they would like.

Carlos Lopez and Justin Hawkins, just as they were in last week's midweek game, have been solid off the bench. But the Rebels starters aren't making enough shots to make their efforts worthwhile thus far. UTEP has scouted this team well and it appears to capable of taking this down to the stretch.

UNLV holds slim 24-21 lead at halftime

The offenses aren't putting on much of a display so far at the Mack. UNLV leads 24-21 at halftime despite shooting 31 percent from the floor.

Chace Stanback, who's been the Rebels' most consistent offensive force in the past few games, is 0-for-4. Mike Moser and Anthony Marshall are a combined 2-of-11. Nobody's feeling it offensively, so the Rebels must rely on their defense to create scoring opportunities. That's what got the Rebels the lead, and they'll need more of it in the second half if they're going to pull away.

UTEP freshman Julian Washburn, their leading scorer is just 2-for-7, and the entire team has cooled off after a fast start. UNLV needs to keep doing what it's doing defensively — UTEP is 1-for-8 from 3 — and finish on the offensive end. They're getting good looks, so the key is to not lose confidence and keep believing that the next shot is going in.

Rebel offense struggles early vs. Miners

UNLV's offense has been ugly so far, but a block and a breakaway dunk from Anthony Marshall may have shifted the momentum. After the dunk cut the deficit to two, the Rebels took the lead and now trail 19-18 with 5:47 left in the first half.

The Rebels' run started on the defensive end, where they've been decent so far. A few open shots aside, UNLV has made UTEP work for its points thus far, and more importantly they've turned the eight forced turnovers into seven points. That's how they want to play, and it's also how they'll pull away if they can string a few of those possessions together.

The Rebels are shooting just 30 percent from the floor, but a lot of those are good shots that just haven't fallen. That usually doesn't last the whole game.

UTEP takes early control vs. UNLV

Slow going here early at the Mack. The Rebels have committed a few fouls, made some lazy passes and find themselves down 6-5 with 15:27 left in the first half.

Carlos Lopez has been tremendous off the bench, notching four points and yelling on defense. He came in for Brice Massamba just more than two minutes into the game and has done exactly what they need from him: bring energy and effort.

The Miners aren't intimidated thus far, and the general feeling in the arena is probably helping them with that. No energy thus far. Think a couple of big plays from UNLV could change that, but so far it's awfully quiet.

UNLV back at home against UTEP

UNLV is finally back at the Thomas & Mack, and it comes at a good time.

The Rebels have dropped a pair of frustrating games on the road in the past couple of weeks. Not so much frustrating that they lost, necessarily, as how they lost — no energy and giving up career games behind the 3-point line to a couple of guards.

Well, a third trip to the Midwest is coming up this weekend, so tonight’s game at home against UTEP gives the Rebels another chance to put a defeat behind them and work on their deficiencies before Saturday’s game against Illinois in Chicago.

Those areas of weakness include perimeter defense, rebounding and a general lack of urgency in the first half.

The latter isn’t likely to be a problem in front of the home crowd as it’s more of a Central time zone conundrum.

The others could pop up home or away, though, and it’s important make positive adjustments in both areas.

Tonight is a similar situation to last week’s game at Orleans Arena against Cal State San Marcos. The differences are 1. UTEP (2-4) is a better team, especially since it just got its lone senior back from injury, and 2. The Wisconsin loss proved that UNLV hadn’t made the necessary corrections from the Wichita State defeat.

After that San Marcos victory, the players and coach Dave Rice talked about how they needed that game. They needed it to erase the bad taste in their mouth, and they needed it in order to make progress in their game.

Well, there wasn’t much progress last weekend. So this game is about those same things, plus remembering that no matter how well (or poorly) it goes tonight, there’s still work to do for the Illinois game.

The Rebels’ frontcourt rotation will be interesting to keep an eye on. Forward Mike Moser, who leads the nation with 12.4 rebounds per game, is still dealing with a sprained right wrist, so his minutes could be limited. Or maybe Rice has been given the clearance from the training staff and he’ll test out Moser’s abilities now so that he knows what to expect on Saturday.

At center, Quintrell Thomas, who didn’t play a minute against the Badgers, is expected to be on the court. Rice said not to read too much into his DNP at Wisconsin, but with the emergence of Carlos Lopez, it’s difficult to figure out exactly where Thomas fits into this bunch. He brings some bruiser-type elements to the table, but is that more valuable than Lopez’s offense?

Bern’s prediction: I don’t think UNLV has quite figured out its opening-game plan, so expect UTEP to be within five points, or maybe even leading, midway through the first half. It won’t last, though. Half of the Miners are freshmen, and that inexperience is going to show when this home crowd, which hasn’t seen a game at the Mack in 22 days, gets behind the Rebels. UNLV 82, UTEP 60.

Taylor Bern can be reached at 948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Taylor on Twitter at twitter.com/taylorbern.

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