Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013 | 5:45 p.m.
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SAN DIEGO — The danger with getting a victory like the 82-75 one UNLV enjoyed at No. 15 San Diego State on Wednesday is that it could distort reality. This was the biggest victory of the season and it was by no means fluky — the Rebels dominated rebounding and shot 51.6 percent from the field — but it doesn’t suddenly make the team invincible on the road.
All of the same problems or concerns about shrinking in late-game situations or getting off to really bad starts in either half still exist. Joining them now is the confidence gained from pulling off the victory against the Aztecs that was closer than the final score indicates. It’s part of the equation but it’s probably not the answer.
As good as the Aztecs are at home, UNLV (15-3, 2-1) is about to travel to a place with a 23-game home court winning streak and the team to back it up.
Colorado State (14-3, 1-1) is even better than the team that defeated the Rebels in Fort Collins, Colo., last year. They brought basically everyone back from that team, plus added 6-foot-10 Minnesota transfer Colton Iverson, who averages about 15 points and nine rebounds per game. UNLV will have to play just as well as it did against San Diego State, only now the Rebels must also fight off an emotional letdown after such a big victory.
— I think once UNLV watches the tape from the SDSU game it will see missed opportunities in the post.
Multiple times in the final six minutes the Aztecs fronted UNLV’s post player — once Anthony Bennett and once Khem Birch — with little or no help likely to appear from another defender. The Rebels have to throw the ball over the top and get it inside in that situation, because it’s a great situation to get an easy basket or draw a foul from a defender who’s caught in a bad position.
— Right after Jamaal Franklin fell in the lane with about 19 seconds left, effectively ending the game, Bryce Dejean-Jones started walking down the court yelling with his arms up and crossed into an X. That’s the Rebels’ sign for the amoeba defense, a gambling zone defense that can create turnovers. Funny thing is, UNLV wasn’t in the amoeba at the time.
UNLV coach Dave Rice said in that final defensive stand the Rebels were playing a matchup zone, which — and it would have been easier to see had the play lasted longer — is different from the high-risk, high-reward amoeba that Jerry Tarkanian used to run. Rice added the team has only used the amoeba for a few possessions this year.
Whatever Dejean-Jones thought he was doing, he did it well.
— UNLV has talked a lot about depth since June, but Wednesday was the first great example of that strength at work.
Because Mike Moser, Bennett and Birch each had two fouls in the first half, Rice played 11 guys and had to use a lineup with both Quintrell Thomas and Savon Goodman, neither of whom played against Air Force last Saturday. Now Thomas was probably going to play no matter what because he and Carlos Lopez-Sosa, who played less than a minute Wednesday, will essentially take turns as the backup center depending on matchups. But Goodman’s time will be far more difficult to predict and he did himself a favor with three rebounds in two minutes, though he did also have a foul and a turnover.
Another winner from UNLV’s bench was freshman point guard Daquan Cook, who played five minutes and didn’t look overwhelmed by the situation. He didn’t have much in the way of stats (1-for-1 with a 3-pointer) but the fact Rice was comfortable playing him in both halves was positive and Cook didn’t betray that trust.
— If UNLV did the same thing with its personnel and ended up losing, it would be very interesting to see the response to Rice’s decision to sit both Bennett and Moser in the final minutes. It’s the type of gutsy move that looks great when you win and brings piles of criticism if you lose.
Since the Rebels won, that’s one thing Rice won’t have to worry about this week. One thing he will have to worry about: Colorado State.