Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Monday, Nov. 12, 2012 | 11:30 p.m.
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- BOX SCORE: UNLV 92, Northern Arizona 54
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- Countdown to tip-off: Bennett shoulders large responsibility for a true freshman
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- Countdown to tip-off: Moser’s back, and UNLV expects him to be better than ever
- Countdown to tip-off: Marshall looking for exclamation point to UNLV career
- Countdown to tip-off: Dejean-Jones’ play could be the key to a successful season
- Countdown to tip-off: Goodman tries to rebound and bully his way onto the court
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- Countdown to tip-off: Reinhardt brings swagger and skill to the guard spots
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The Strip runs on residencies, with big stars headlining venues all over for mostly limited engagements. Monday at the Thomas & Mack Center, 18,187 people attended opening night of the Anthony Bennett Show, an event not likely to last in Las Vegas more than five months, so see it while you can.
Bennett, No. 18 UNLV’s most ballyhooed newcomer, scored the game’s first points with a big two-handed slam and then proceeded to dominate an overmatched Northern Arizona squad for 22 points and seven rebounds in his collegiate debut, a 92-54 Rebels victory.
“It was a pretty aggressive dunk,” Bennett said of his first official shot as a Rebel. “I wanted the fans to get into it, because once the fans get into it we get into it.”
The Lumberjacks (0-2) may be one of the smallest interiors the Rebels (1-0) will play this year, but this was still Bennett’s first real game since he helped Henderson’s Findlay Prep win a national championship last season. Not only did he dominate the game, Bennett didn’t need to be on the court more than half the time to do it. He collected his 22 points on 9-of-13 shooting, including 1-for-3 on 3-pointers, in just 20 minutes.
Bennett had a completely different visage than the guy who missed six 3-pointers and often hung his head in last week’s narrow exhibition victory against Dixie State. On Monday in front of school-record crowd for a season opener he was smiling and flexing on the court half the time, then jumping off the bench to be the first guy to congratulate his teammates the rest of the game.
UNLV coach Dave Rice said a lot of that credit goes to junior Mike Moser, who has been in Bennett’s ear the past few days about staying positive and playing his game. Moser even practiced what he preached against NAU, overcoming a 1-for-6 shooting night to impact the game in other ways.
“When you have a good team and you want to become a very good team it takes guys like Mike Moser, who scores two points and doesn’t care because he goes and gets 11 rebounds and he gets four assists and no turnovers,” Rice said.
Bennett wasn’t the only guy making his Rebel debut. Fellow freshman Katin Reinhardt had 14 points, 10 of which came during a 21-0 run that stretched over both halves and effectively ended the game after NAU had pulled within six less than five minutes to go in the first half.
Sophomore Bryce Dejean-Jones hadn’t played in more than a year and a half since transferring from USC and scored 15 points on 5-of-7 shooting. He also had six turnovers, though some of that could be due to the broken left hand he suffered in early October. Dejean-Jones had the hand wrapped in ice at the postgame press conference, though the pain wasn’t enough to stop him from doing something like diving to the floor in the final minutes of a blowout.
“I don’t think about that until after,” Dejean-Jones said.
Freshman Savon Goodman scored 11 points in 16 minutes, making it all four newcomers in double figure scoring. The fifth Rebel to reach that plateau was senior Anthony Marshall, who had 14 points, six assists and two turnovers in his first game as the primary point guard. Marshall was 6-for-6 from the floor, helping UNLV shoot 50 percent as a team.
The Rebels shot 27 3-pointers, but unlike the exhibition against Dixie State most of these were open shots within Rice’s defensive-fueled running offense. The bad shots this time came in spurts rather than littering the entire second half like last Wednesday, which may indicate some improvement in that area as UNLV moves on to Saturday’s home game at 7 against Jacksonville State.
“We tried to make a consistent effort to get the ball inside, at least touch it,” Marshall said. “When we throw it inside they have to play our bigs or we’re just going to go in and score, so once they do come over and double it allows us to kick out and make an extra pass, and that’s when we get the open shots that we want.”
NAU did well in its season opener Saturday at Oregon, even leading the Ducks late in the game before losing by 10. They simply didn’t have the size to compete with UNLV, though.
The Lumberjacks started a four-guard lineup, and starting forward Ephraim Ekanem played only eight minutes because of a hand injury. UNLV outscored NAU 42-8, which may actually be more important than the Rebels’ 21-0 advantage in fast-break points. The reason is UNLV always knew it could run against this team. And while dominating the paint should have been guaranteed, the Rebels have a history of bypassing those easy points for long-range shots.
Everyone got into the act with inside points against NAU and it started with Bennett. The first McDonald’s All-American to go straight to UNLV from high school since Freddie Banks in 1983, Bennett has a lot of attention on him this year.
“Anthony has a lot of pressure on him, just like our team does, in terms of the expectation,” Rice said, “and no one has higher expectations of Anthony than Anthony has of himself.”
Through one game he proved capable of handling the weight of that pressure and leading UNLV’s offense. It won’t be the last time he leads the team in scoring, either, which is one of the reasons it’s easy to see why he’s already an NBA prospect. It would take a drastic reversal of fortune, most likely something health-wise, to keep Bennett from making the jump at the end of this season.
The main question is just how long this season will go, and after one game the Rebels like their chances of extending the show a weekend or two in March.