Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Sunday, Jan. 22, 2012 | 12:29 a.m.
- Carlos Lopez asserts himself as a force in Rebels stomping of New Mexico
- BOX SCORE: UNLV 80, New Mexico 63
- UNLV’s blowout victory against New Mexico caps great day of hoops
- Blog: Mike Moser gets another double-double as UNLV knocks out New Mexico 80-63
- UNLV looking to match New Mexico’s hunger for victory
- 2011-12 UNLV Men's Basketball Schedule
- All UNLV Men's Basketball Coverage
The UNLV basketball team’s speed is no secret.
There’s not an opponent on the schedule that doesn’t know about it and have a plan to stop it. But seeing it in person is another thing.
Saturday night in front of a sold-out Thomas & Mack Center crowd, New Mexico looked like a driver whose car stalled on railroad tracks with a train bearing down on him.
“I don’t think they were ready to run like that today,” UNLV sophomore forward Mike Moser said.
The Rebels (18-3, 2-1) ripped through the Lobos (15-4, 1-2) for an 80-63 victory, keeping them one game back of first-place San Diego State in the Mountain West Conference. Meanwhile, New Mexico, the preseason pick to win the conference, is two games back just three games into the conference season.
Before the game, coach Dave Rice had discussed matching the Lobos’ desperation and being the aggressors. It didn’t look like the message took at first, but about 12 minutes in, the Rebels flipped a switch on defense and turned up the pressure.
“We felt like the last five or six minutes of the first half, Mike Moser got a sense, a feel for how to guard and we did a much better job fronting the post,” Rice said.
Moser finished with his 10th double-double of the season (14 points and 10 rebounds) and also had two blocks and a steal in 38 minutes.
“We were overthinking things,” Moser said. “New Mexico, they run a lot of plays and we went over just about every one of them. Once we stopped thinking about what exactly they were doing and just kind of played basketball, it just felt more of a natural flow with our defense.”
Everything the Rebels are trying to accomplish on offense — getting out in transition and living up to their new Lob Vegas moniker — starts on defense. It’s hard to run without turnovers.
On Saturday, UNLV forced 21 turnovers and scored 26 fast-break points. New Mexico scored none.
“It started with Oscar (Bellfield's) defensive pressure,” Rice said. “Our ability to switch so many screens gives teams who run great sets, like New Mexico, a problem.”
Bellfield and Anthony Marshall guard the ball as well as any backcourt duo in the conference, and Marshall is still in a zone offensively.
He tallied 13 points, nine assists, six rebounds and four steals in 36 minutes. Marshall said the Rebels could sense the Lobos wearing down in the second half. UNLV’s plan is to impose its will on an opponent, and this game was a perfect example of that.
“Our guys have bought into the fact that we wear teams out because of our style of play, because of our conditioning, because of our bench,” Rice said.
Chace Stanback scored 13 points, including 3-of-6 shooting behind the 3-point line. Off the bench, Carlos Lopez scored 14 points, thanks largely to 14 free-throw attempts, and Justin Hawkins tallied 10 points.
Rice was especially pleased with Lopez and how well his three-man rotation at center works together on any given night.
“I told the guys after the game that it only works because of the character of Carlos Lopez, of Brice Massamba, of Quintrell Thomas and how committed they are to the team,” Rice said. “Because if they worried about their minutes, it would never work.”
Massamba had six points and five rebounds. He also had a scary moment less than four minutes into the second half.
He caught an elbow to the jaw from New Mexico’s Cameron Bairstow, drawing a flagrant foul from the refs. Massamba would eventually be OK and return to the game, but he couldn’t take the free throws. So Rice put in Kendall Wallace, who’s final stat line read 2-for-2 at the free-throw line in zero minutes.
Everything was clicking down the stretch and everyone contributed. The challenge now is taking the show back on the road and performing with the same intensity. That doesn’t come easy to this team, but Saturday’s victory gives the Rebels a good feeling to build from.
Their style makes it easy for games to get out of hand quickly. And if a team like the Lobos doesn’t come up with a counter-punch to get off the tracks, the result is the Rebels running right through you.
“It’s hard to guard when Anthony Marshall is coming at you 100 miles an hour,” Moser said.