Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Sunday, Jan. 9, 2011 | 2:15 a.m.
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Las Vegas Sun reporters Ryan Greene and Ray Brewer break down the UNLV basketball team's big victory against TCU and look ahead to the Rebels' showdown next week at No. 6 San Diego State. Plus, a look at the newest Rebel - Marquette transfer Reggie Smith.
For the first time in about a month, the Rebels got out and running while dictating the pace of a game, played crisp ball from start to finish and actually looked like they were enjoying themselves.
It was a crippling 24-0 run that seemed to unfold in an instant that got everything rolling, and in the end, Lon Kruger's club may have at last gotten itself back on track.
"Saw a lot of smiles on the court today, and that's what we needed," junior forward Chace Stanback said. "We need to start having more fun out there.
The aforementioned run began after the game's first media timeout, when sophomore guards Anthony Marshall and Justin Hawkins came off of the bench with UNLV trailing 12-8 and a crowd of 12,155 actually floating some boos into the air following the sluggish start.
After redshirt freshman forward Carlos Lopez hit a pair of free throws, Marshall and Hawkins each drove hard from the wing for back-to-back tough finishes at the bucket.
Everyone then got in on the act, as the game turned into a laugher quickly. The entire run lasted just a little more than five minutes.
During the 24-0 spurt, UNLV forced eight TCU turnovers, and looked crisp time after time on open-court chances, not overdoing it or getting too flashy, but rather executing to perfection.
"We had a lot of opportunities, made what seemed like the right decision and the right play at the finish of each one of those," Kruger said. "We've done a good job of sharing the ball all year, but I thought during that stretch was as good of a job of making the right play for each other as we've had all year."
Kruger went on to say that it was, in his mind, probably the best 40-minute effort his team had strung together this season.
In the process, UNLV (13-3 overall, 1-1 Mountain West) took advantage of a quickly gassed TCU (9-8, 0-2) group, that on the night committed 23 giveaways that turned into 32 UNLV points.
As a result, two of the Rebels' offensive stalwarts — Stanback and senior guard Tre'Von Willis — were able to get themselves back on track.
Willis, who was just 4-of-16 from the floor during a frustrating 89-77 home loss to No. 15 BYU on Wednesday night, turned around with arguably his best overall game of the season.
He scored in a variety of ways, tallying a game-high 22 points on 7-of-14 shooting to go with seven rebounds, five steals and three assists.
"It felt like we took some steps today," he said. "We played like we wanted to play. We wanted to push the ball in transition, kick to the wing, attack, then skip to the other wing, attack again. We did a nice job not settling for shots tonight."
Willis just a few days earlier after the loss to the Cougars talked about how UNLV's offense was a bit stagnant, not exploring the entire half-court on many possessions and instead took too many rushed outside shots.
One guy who took some much-needed outside shots was Stanback, who needed a strong offensive night more than anyone else in a UNLV uniform.
The team's leading scorer on the season, Stanback had scored in single digits in five of the team's last six games. During that stretch, he was just 17-of-49 (34.7 percent) from the floor.
On Saturday, he was 5-of-6 for 15 points, including hitting both of his 3-point tries. He scored 14 of the 15 in the first half and rested for the better part of the second stanza.
After his second trey, he even left his right hand in the air for a moment after it splashed through, exuding a bit of the swagger he'd regularly displayed during a hot start to the season.
"Everybody was looking for each other, making plays for each other," Stanback said, crediting the flow of the game for his slump-busting night. "We play like that and we'll be tough to beat."
Five Rebels scored in double figures, with the three outside of Willis and Stanback, fittingly, being the trio of roommates who sparked the early run.
Hawkins was 6-of-7 from the floor, finishing with 13 points and four steals in 22 minutes. Marshall tallied 11 to go with five assists. Lopez, who before the game chopped off his long hair and replaced the shaggy look with a faux-hawk, had 12 points in 14 minutes.
As a team, UNLV was 30-of-59 from the floor, and its 50.8 percent collective effort was the highest the Rebels have posted since Nov. 28 in a 71-59 victory over Virginia Tech in the title game of the 76 Classic.
Defensively, the Rebels had the Horned Frogs looking confused for much of the night by neutralizing TCU's top offensive weapon — junior guard Ronnie Moss.
Moss, who scored 25 points in last year's trip to the Mack, was just 2-of-8 from the floor, scoring seven points and turning the ball over an astounding 10 times.
Maybe most important for UNLV was the timing of the effort. The Rebels needed it in a bad way to wash away any sour taste leftover from the BYU debacle but also had to get a confidence-booster before playing arguably their toughest game of the Mountain West season.
Next up, UNLV heads west to face No. 6 San Diego State (17-0, 2-0), who remained unbeaten on Saturday with a 71-62 victory at Utah.
Viejas Arena will have a sell-out crowd in place, and the Rebels have had rough outings in road losses to the Aztecs in each of the last two seasons. They'll likely be hefty underdogs on this trip, too, as SDSU returns from a year ago the entire frontcourt that gave UNLV fits while winning two of three meetings.
Though none of the Rebels would admit having had their eyes on this trip for a while, it didn't necessarily have to be said.
"It's always in the back of our minds, but we always try to focus on the next game," Stanback said. "Now it is our next game, so we can focus more on it."
• Saturday's wide margin for much of the night would have presented a prime opportunity for freshman swingman Karam Mashour to pick up some minutes, but he was held out due to illness.
• The only UNLV regular to not score was junior point guard Oscar Bellfield, who is still dealing with an ailing right wrist that is heavily taped. He was 0-for-9 from the floor and 0-for-5 from deep, but did have three assists, no turnovers and three steals in 25 minutes. Still, it's looking like the tape on the wrist is something he's still adjusting to while shooting. Bellfield is now 9-of-34 from the floor in four games since hurting it against Southern Utah on Dec. 18.
• Former UNLV star guard Wink Adams was in attendance on Saturday night with his wife of six months, Chante. Adams, the Rebels' sixth all-time leading scorer who graduated following the 2008-09 season, said he will be leaving to play pro ball in Germany in two weeks. He spent the first part of the season with the Sioux Falls Skyforce of the NBA Developmental League, averaging seven points and 2.1 assists in 10 games played.