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Performances from Justin Hawkins, Mike Moser in opening night victory give Rebels something to build on

Hawkins had a game-high 25 points, while Moser collects 20 rebounds in his UNLV debut

UNLV vs. Grand Canyon

Sam Morris

UNLV forward Mike Moser takes the ball up court followed by Grand Canyon forward Justin Wesolowski (22) and guard Brad Carroll during their game Friday, Nov. 11, 2011 at the Thomas & Mack. The Rebels won their opener 83-66.

UNLV basket ball vs. Grand Canyon

KSNV coverage of UNLV Runnin' Rebels facing off against Grand Canyon, Nov. 11, 2011.

UNLV vs. Grand Canyon

UNLV guard Justin Hawkins and Grand Canyon guard Justin Foreman chase a loose ball during their game Friday, Nov. 11, 2011 at the Thomas & Mack. The Rebels won their opener 83-66. Launch slideshow »

Mike Moser’s debut with the UNLV basketball team couldn’t have gone any better Friday with a game-high 20 rebounds and 16 points in the Rebels’ 83-66 victory against Division II Grand Canyon at the Thomas & Mack Center.

And while Moser was dominant, he wasn’t the Rebels’ best player. Just ask the 6-foot-8 sophomore forward, who saw his first action with the scarlet and gray after transferring from UCLA and sitting out last year.

That honor goes to junior swingman Justin Hawkins, he says. Most of the 13,763 fans in attendance surely agree.

Hawkins posted a career-high 25 points in 38 minutes, connecting on 9-of-15 field goals — including 4-of-6 on 3-pointers — while taking advantage of a spot start for the suspended Chace Stanback. His previous high in points was 13.

“Once I seen how hot Justin was, I honestly tried to stay out of the way,” Moser said. “He was creating everything and creating for others.”

UNLV led by as many as 11 points in the first half before seeing its lead cut to one point at halftime, 39-38. The Rebels played only seven players and were clearly gassed late in the half in allowing Grand Canyon to rally.

But they opened the second half on a 22-11 run, including a 3-pointer from Hawkins in the corner with about 12 minutes remaining to give the Rebels the lead by double digits for good.

The shortage of players wasn’t an ideal situation for Dave Rice in his UNLV head-coaching debut, but when it was all said and done, he found a reliable piece of the puzzle moving forward in Hawkins.

Rice classified his team as a work in progress following the game, realizing the solid second half effort was the fruit of intense conditioning in the offseason. While giving four players more than 35 minutes of playing time won’t occur nightly, it definitely helped bring to light some of the team’s unknown commodities.

Hawkins, for example, showed he was ready to be a bigger part of the rotation. With guard Anthony Marshall serving a one-game suspension, Hawkins even played a little point guard when Oscar Bellfield suffered leg cramps in the second half.

His most impressive stat of the night might have been having no turnovers.

“On winning teams, guys step up and make plays when they are called upon,” Rice said. “Justin is a high-character kid with a high basketball IQ, He did what was necessary.”

Hawkins admits his performance was a little bit out of the ordinary, but surely doesn’t lack confidence in building off the career game. He was aggressive offensively all night, calmly knocking down deep jumps shots and driving the ball to the basket for easy points.

Hawkins wasn’t all too focused on seizing the opportunity of being in the starting lineup. The way he explains it, he was simply enjoying himself on the court — something that was obvious with a grin from ear-to-ear most of the game.

“I was just having a good time out there. Just playing with Mike Moser and Oscar, we were just have fun running up and down the floor playing all those minutes,” Hawkins said. “It just brought us back to (our) middle school, AAU days, where you play a ton of minutes in one game.”

Moser is far from a finished product and a few times appeared out of control, especially twice in the second half when taking the ball to the basket. But he proved to be great in transition, always around the ball and solid on the interior.

“He is all about the team and he has an unbelievable motor,” Rice said. “He is a guy who finishes first in sprints and he is one of the last guys to leave the court. He is just a relentless worker and that carries over to the (rebounding).”

UNLV will have little time to rest on its victory, needing a quick recovery and turnaround for Monday’s game against visiting Nevada-Reno. But, all in all, it was a solid first effort — and victory No. 1 in the Dave Rice Era.

“I know you have heard me say this a lot but we are still a work in progress offensively in terms of understanding how to push the ball and running to our spots,” Rice said. “It is one of those deals when you win a game, you can come in and talk about the fact that having our depth hurt us a little bit.”

Ray Brewer can be reached at 990-2662 or [email protected]. Follow Ray on Twitter at

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