Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2012 | 9:30 p.m.
- Dunk fest: Rebels run away from Laval 97-62 in easiest victory of their Canadian tour
- Khem Birch watches UNLV dispatch Ottawa before it heads to his native Montreal
- Bryce Dejean-Jones leads charge as UNLV pulls away for 89-76 victory
- First impressions: Taking a closer look at 5 Rebels’ debuts in victory at Carleton
- Katin Reinhardt steps up in his debut, leading UNLV to a 74-70 victory at Carleton
- Rebels explore Ottawa after rude awakening their first night in town
- North of the border: Get to know UNLV’s opponents on its Canadian tour
- The first-year successes were nice, but Rebels coach Rice says he’s still developing
- UNLV’s Carlos Lopez and Quintrell Thomas working hard to get on the court
- Roscoe Smith a picture of calm amid the uncertainty about his immediate eligibility
- Moser’s new position a focal point in Rebels’ first practice for upcoming Canada tour
- Rebels begin all-important practices for Canada exhibition tour on Saturday
- All UNLV in Canada coverage
MONTREAL — The UNLV basketball players on scholarship who didn’t play in Tuesday’s 74-59 victory against McGill could end up being some of the most important contributors this season. Those four — freshmen Katin Reinhardt and Anthony Bennett, sophomore Khem Birch and junior Roscoe Smith — alone could be the nucleus of a separate top-25 team.
Which is to say, the integration of UNLV’s new pieces is far from over. The Rebels’ victory in Love Competition Hall — a generally uninspiring affair from the start — wrapped up a perfect 4-0 tour of Ottawa and Montreal. UNLV was challenged early, but as the Rebels’ legs began to fade in days three and four, so did the status of their opponents.
Senior Anthony Marshall led the way against McGill with 17 points on 7-for-12 shooting. Fellow senior Justin Hawkins chipped in 12 points and three steals, and freshman Savon Goodman rounded out a very productive tour for himself with 11 points and five rebounds.
This trip was the first action against outside opponents for five Rebels, and it gives them a head start toward understanding regular-season expectations. Even Bryce Dejean-Jones, who has been practicing with the team for the past year, said UNLV coach Dave Rice’s desired breakneck pace was a shock to his system.
“I’m finally figuring out we play pretty fast at both sides of the court,” Dejean-Jones said. “The first couple of games I had to collect myself. I wasn’t as prepared to be running like that. But now I am.”
Reinhardt, too, got a taste of it in the first couple of games, but the knee injury he suffered at the end of Sunday’s victory against Ottawa held him out of the final two contests. That hindered the advances he could have made in regards to getting up to game speed and playing within the system alongside his teammates.
Overall, Rice said, he was pleased with how Dejean-Jones and the four freshmen on the trip progressed in their knowledge of the game and his style, but there are still three more guys who may have to do the same thing this fall. Bennett, Birch and Smith, pending the NCAA’s approval of his waiver request, will have to get up to speed the same way players on teams who didn’t take trips this season do.
And considering how important those guys could be to UNLV’s success this season, that means the Rebels still have a lot to figure out in terms of playing together as a team.
“I think the guys do recognize and realize how much work is ahead,” Rice said. “Guys are going to need to earn their minutes.”
There were certain stretches against McGill that may have been the most haphazard of the four-game swing. Guys out of position and bunched up together in one spot. Defensive switches that left Redmen shooters wide open, and the Rebels shot 3-for-19 behind the three-point line while committing 18 turnovers. UNLV was tired — an explanation but not an excuse, Rice said — and even with the time on the court, it was clear that Rebels young and old have plenty to work on.
“They don’t know how to play with us,” senior Quintrell Thomas said of the newcomers. “There are still a lot of people learning things, and we’ve got to learn to play with them. … We expect each other to be in the right place, but with them we actually have to talk. So that’s what we’ll do.”
Rice once again focused on conditioning after the game, saying it was the team’s top priority moving forward.
“We want that to be a trademark of our program,” Rice said. “Regardless of the opponent, regardless of how many games in how many days, regardless of how we’re feeling or what may be going on or who’s hurt, none of those things should matter. We need to give a better effort.”
The newcomers now have some experience to draw on and possibly use as extra motivation in their workouts. Knowing how far they are right now from where Rice demands they be at in the regular season is valuable information. They may try to share their findings with Bennett, Birch and Smith, but those guys will probably have to find out the hard way, just like everyone else.
“They got a sense of how we try to play, and at times we played right,” Rice said. “We just need to do that over the course of 40 minutes more often.”
That’s the challenge for everyone on the roster, from those who just got their first taste of it to those still waiting in the wings. Some combination of guys from both groups are going to have to come together and figure it out at the same time in to produce a prolific season.
A city expects it. The program does, too.
The first piece, bonus practices and games not every team is fortunate enough to get at such an opportune time, is in place. The rest of the puzzle lies ahead, waiting to be solved.