Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2011 | 2 a.m.
Pretty much every piece of advertising around the Las Vegas Valley promoting the 2011-12 UNLV men's basketball season contains the slogan "Let's Run."
In Tuesday night's exhibition opener at the Thomas & Mack Center against Washburn, it was clear that it had been drilled into the players' heads so thoroughly that they had the look of a team that was pressing in order to do so.
The result was an ugly 58-50 victory over the Ichabods, which proved that the label first-year coach Dave Rice has repeatedly applied to his team so far while transitioning to a new system — a work in progress — is dead on.
"I think the thing that got us through tonight was we had five guys on the floor at all times that battled," Rice told the Sun Thursday night. "We found a way, and I think it speaks to the character of our guys."
As a new coach inheriting a veteran basketball team, Rice and his staff have long known how fortunate they are to work with a group of players used to winning mostly by out-working the competition. That will was what helped UNLV ultimately pull away from Washburn in the closing minutes.
Now, the trick is finding a way to mix that grit with the uptempo style Rice wants his team to put on display.
What set the tone early Tuesday night was Washburn's discipline on the offensive end, as Bob Chipman's club found ways to work the shot clock and not allow UNLV to turn it into an up-and-down affair. Being forced to defend for long stretches made the Rebels look a bit too eager on the offensive end, and in turn, they headed to the halftime locker room trailing 21-20, having gone 4-of-23 from the floor and 0-for-8 from long range.
"Very bad," junior guard Anthony Marshall said of the first half offensive showing. "You always see the crowd getting their little squirms in, so as a player, it's very difficult. We knew that wasn't the way we wanted to play basketball."
It's not that the Rebels did a complete one-eighty in the second stanza, but they looked much more like a cohesive, confident unit, and it all started with Marshall.
In his first game at point guard, Marshall really began to look comfortable after the break, when he scored 12 of his 14 points and registered all four of his assists. He finished the night with 11 rebounds and four steals, as well.
His best stretch came with five minutes remaining and the game tied, 47-47. That's when Marshall fed sophomore Carlos Lopez inside with a nifty pass that led to a momentum-creating dunk. Then, on the ensuing Washburn possession, Marshall ripped down a board off of a missed shot, went coast-to-coast and found Lopez in rhythm again for another throwdown.
In the second half, Marshall, for a while, found the balance he said he'd be seeking this season in terms of feeling out when he's needed to score and when it's time to set up others.
He said it stemmed from picking up three fouls in the first half and the Ichabods' defense collapsing on him every time he drove to the bucket.
"It allowed me to get Carlos some easy buckets, and he finished at the rim like he was supposed to," Marshall added. "I had to make an adjustment, because I couldn't be as aggressive as I wanted to be."
Also looking comfortable was Mike Moser, who played in his first game since late in the 2009-10 season, when he had gone from highly-touted recruit to little-used freshman reserve at UCLA.
He said that the 32 minutes of action he saw on Tuesday was the most he'd played in an organized game since the state championship game that ended his senior year of high school in Portland Ore.
Moser struggled from the floor, hitting just four of 13 shot attempts, but he was a force on the offensive glass, got to the free throw line and defended aggressively. He finished the night with 14 points and nine rebounds in what was a pretty strong UNLV debut.
"A lot of the guys who redshirted (following transfers) before were telling me it's that get-back year that's tough, so ease your way in," he said. "I'm not trying to take their advice. I'm trying to throw myself in.
"It felt good. A lot of butterflies at first. Once I got playing, it was just basketball. I've been doing it for a long time."
Moser said that if he could change anything from his offensive performance on Tuesday, he would have worked inside-out instead of starting his night off with several outside jumpers, which set a tough tone when they didn't fall.
Like Moser, several other Rebels will have ample opportunities over the next 10 days to correct what went wrong in their first structured team outing. Saturday afternoon, UNLV will host Loyola Marymount in a full 40-minute scrimmage that is closed to both the media and public, per NCAA rules. After that will come a full week of practices and next Friday night's season opener back at the Mack against Grand Canyon.
But it was a learning experience, too, as the Rebels realized quickly that many future opponents will also know that with their desire to run, there will be several game plans designed around trying to slow them down to a crawl.
"I think with the athletes we have and the way we're trying to push the tempo and play, I think there are a lot of teams that will try to take the air out of (the ball) a little bit," Rice said. "So that's something we'll have to learn to deal with.
• Several UNLV recruiting targets were on hand for the first game of the Dave Rice era. Among them were Bishop Gorman's senior swingman Shabazz Muhammad — the unanimous top overall prospect in the 2012 class— junior guard Rashad Muhammad, senior forward Ben Carter and freshman phenom Stephen Zimmerman. Carter, who will choose in the near future between UNLV, Oregon and Utah, arrived in the second half wearing a UNLV hooded sweatshirt, then hung around afterwards to visit some with Rice. Sitting a couple of sections over was Findlay Prep junior guard and former UNLV commit Nigel Williams-Goss.
• UNLV was just 15-of-48 from the floor and 2-of-18 from 3-point range … Carlos Lopez scored all 11 of his points in the second half … Justin Hawkins had five points, four steals and three rebounds playing in place of suspended senior Chace Stanback, who will return for the Nov. 14 home game against rival UNR.
• Washburn was led by by guard William McNeill, who scored a game-high 21 points. McNeill had to be helped off of the floor after the game, however, while wearing an oxygen mask, as he collided with a cameraman in the game's closing minutes. The pain brought him to tears and grabbing his chest as he was assisted on the Washburn bench for several minutes before exiting the floor.