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UNLV basketball:

Wood carries Rebels past Owls in solid bounceback victory

UNLV’s sophomore forward registers new career highs in points (18) and rebounds (13) while leading UNLV to 57-50 victory against Temple


Seth Weng / AP

UNLV’s Christian Wood, center, drives to the basket past Temple defenders during the second half of a game for third place in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic on Saturday, Nov. 22, 2014, in New York. UNLV defeated Temple 57-50.

UNLV vs. Temple

UNLV's Christian Wood, right, celebrates with Cody Doolin in the Rebels' 57-50 win against Temple in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic on Saturday, Nov. 22, 2014, in New York. Launch slideshow »

The volume finally became too much for Christian Wood to ignore. Everyone from coach Dave Rice to senior guard Cody Doolin to the guys handing him water has told Wood what the Rebels need from him.

With UNLV desperate to escape from New York with a 1-1 record after a 29-point loss Friday night, Wood gave them exactly what they were asking for. Wood entered the second half like a man on a mission and posted new career highs in points (18) and rebounds (13) while leading the Rebels (3-1) to a 57-50 victory against Temple in Brooklyn’s Barclays Center.

“When you have 15 guys telling you to post up and stop shooting the ball, it definitely clicks in my head,” Wood said.

That it still needs to be said is an obvious source of frustration for many, because if that ever stays locked in there’s no telling how high Wood’s ceiling will be this year, but it’s definitely vaulted.

Here’s a play that hints at Wood’s potential: Early in the second half, he took the ball out on the wing and dribbled past three Owls defenders. The layup was his third field goal in the first four minutes of the second half.

“He decided that he was going to take his team to the win today,” Temple coach Fran Dunphy said.

Here’s a play that highlights how far Wood still has to go: In the first half with UNLV down one, freshman Rashad Vaughn missed two free throws. The second one bounced directly to Wood’s spot on the block. All he had to do was stick his arms up and grab it for an offensive rebound the Rebels really needed, but Wood had already run away from that spot as soon as the ball left Vaughn’s fingers.

Mental lapses like that, to say nothing of the often ill-advised 3-point attempts, won’t disappear just because Wood had an outstanding second half. Wood’s a work in progress who says he prefers the post only because he knows that’s what he should say, but the intriguing thing will be to see whether this performance leans more toward anomaly or something bigger in his development.

“When you see guys every day you see the growth, and not just growth from the basketball standpoint but from the maturity standpoint too,” Rice said.

Rice was talking about his entire team, but it feels like that will be the most important for Wood because at his best, he’s UNLV’s best player. Throw in his four blocks and at least another four affected shots and you get a good idea of his dominance. The Rebels needed it, too.

Vaughn shot 2-of-10, finishing 4-of-19 in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic, and at halftime no Rebel had more than five points. Temple shot 24.1 percent for the game, including an atrocious 5-of-33 in the second half, but UNLV was only able to pull away on offense because of Wood and some timely 3-pointers from Doolin.

Doolin finished with 10 points and five assists, and freshmen Goodluck Okonoboh and Patrick McCaw were really solid for stretches. But this was Wood’s show.

He shot 1-of-2 on 3-pointers, both of them in the second half, and the make actually gave UNLV its first lead of the tournament, an advantage the Rebels didn’t give up the rest of the game.

No one on UNLV’s staff is telling Wood not to shoot the ball, but they do want him to earn those attempts with his work in the post.

“Emphasis on post,” Rice said.

This was an important victory for UNLV’s progress. The Rebels bounced back from an ugly loss and weathered some bad shooting to avoid falling to .500. But depending on what he learns from it, the performance might be more important than the result because it could lead to several more victories this season.

As Dunphy said, Wood decided to win this game for UNLV by doing exactly what Rice has been asking of him. What will Wood decide that means he should do in the next game?

Smith held out again with injury

Sophomore guard Kendall Smith missed his second straight game because of an ankle injury he suffered Tuesday, according to Rice. The Rebels are off until Saturday's home game against Albany, and Smith is expected to return by then.

Taylor Bern can be reached at 948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Taylor on Twitter at twitter.com/taylorbern.

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