Michael G. Brown / Michael G. Brown Photography
Saturday, Dec. 13, 2014 | 8:35 p.m.
Pat McCaw can run the point and guard the interior, and his hands are in seemingly every passing lane. The only thing UNLV’s best all-around player hasn’t learned to do is pat himself on the back.
“I just play as hard as I possibly can,” he said after UNLV’s 75-61 victory against South Dakota. “I don’t need to be that concerned about my performance. I just focus on winning.”
No one’s going to argue with that mentality or the results as McCaw propelled UNLV’s big run stretching from a five-point lead late in the first half to a 13-point lead early in the second half. Freshman Rashad Vaughn scored a team-high 18 points in front of a sizable contingent from Minnesota and sophomore Christian Wood registered his sixth double-double, but there’s no question McCaw was the Rebels’ most important player in the game.
UNLV (6-2) had foul trouble with Wood, Goodluck Okonoboh and Dwayne Morgan picking up three apiece in the first half. That forced the Rebels to play small and highlighted McCaw’s jack-of-all-trades abilities even more than the previous seven games, when he was already the Rebels’ most consistent player.
During the key stretch, McCaw scored 10 points on 3-of-3 shooting, grabbed three rebounds and also had an assist, a steal and a turnover. The steal was huge.
The Coyotes (3-8) were setting up for the last shot of the first half. Instead, McCaw picked Tyler Larson’s pocket and swished a running, one-footed 3-pointer at the buzzer to send UNLV into halftime with an 11-point lead.
McCaw finished with 12 points, four rebounds, four steals, an assist, a turnover and a block in 31 minutes. The freshman from St. Louis is quiet away from the court, but his coach and teammates don’t mind caping up for him.
“I don’t think you can underestimate having a freshman who’s as good as Pat is be able to play four different positions,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said. “When we have to manage foul trouble, ‘OK Pat, now you’re the two,’ ‘OK Pat, now you’re the three,’ ‘OK Pat, now you’re the four taking the ball inbounds and beating the press.’ … It’s a huge deal.”
When the Rebels aren’t dealing with foul issues, McCaw has settled in as senior Cody Doolin’s backup at point guard. That means Doolin is usually in spectator mode when the 6-foot-6 hybrid gets out in transition.
“He just does some things as a freshman that makes your jaw drop,” said Doolin, who had eight points, five steals and three assists. Senior Jelan Kendrick pitched in with 13 points on 5-of-10 shooting.
The Rebels’ last game was the blowout against St. Katherine, but really they’re still coming off that 22-point loss at Arizona State. It was the mistakes in that game, particularly failing to close out on the 3-point line, that were still the focus coming into this neutral-site game at the Sanford Pentagon.
“Our whole preparation, all week long, was limiting their 3-point shooters,” Rice said.
The Coyotes went 0-for-5 beyond the arc in the first half and 2-of-17 for the game. That’s the lowest made 3-pointer total of the season for a UNLV opponent, and it helped equalize South Dakota’s advantage on the boards (38-33) and in the paint (32-28).
When you focus primarily on one aspect of the game for more than a week, it should be good on game day. However, sticking to the script hasn’t been a strength of this team through eight games.
“Not only did we play good perimeter defense, but we followed the game plan better than we had followed it all year long,” Rice said.
That’s a minor victory in itself. A lot of the times when fans are scratching their heads or yelling at on-court decisions, the coaching staff can be seen doing the same thing on the bench.
Getting the players to follow instructions and not letting one bad shot turn into five of them is one of Rice’s primary tasks as the Rebels return to the Thomas & Mack Center on Wednesday against Portland.
“Being unselfish is just as contagious as being selfish,” Rice said.
After Wednesday’s game, one of the most difficult stretches in recent UNLV history gets started Dec. 20 with No. 13 Utah at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. From there, it’s No. 3 Arizona at home, a break against Southern Utah and then road trips to Wyoming on New Year’s Eve and at No. 10 Kansas on Jan. 4.
The Rebels, with an eight-man rotation featuring two seniors, a sophomore and five freshmen, aren’t built for this type of schedule, but it’s coming whether they’re ready or not. Although they probably knew this before tonight’s game, the good news is McCaw confirmed that at least one of those youngsters will be prepared to handle whatever situation is about to come his way.
Just don’t expect him to tell you about it.