Saturday, Jan. 10, 2015 | 10:53 p.m.
Las Vegas Sun sports writers Ray Brewer and Taylor Bern reflect on UNLV's tough 16-day stretch of games and what it means for the Rebels as they turn their full attention to Mountain West play.
By the end, tonight was as routine as it was supposed to be and that’s precisely what the UNLV basketball team needed after starting Mountain West play 0-2.
UNLV (10-6, 1-2) returned to the Thomas & Mack Center three days after losing its third straight game and welcomed in slump-busting San Jose State (2-14, 0-4), which dressed only eight players. The result was what you would expect out of a game with the home team favored by 20 points. Once the Rebels stopped giving up offensive rebounds the margin quickly got out of hand in a 74-40 UNLV victory.
“We were a very frustrated team and program after Wednesday’s loss,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said. “One of the parts of this group is we’ve always bounced back.”
Frustrated not only because Wednesday’s 64-62 loss to UNR, the Wolf Pack’s third straight win in the series, set UNLV back significantly in the conference race, but also because the Rebels had themselves to blame. The Wolf Pack played hard and took advantage of UNLV’s weaknesses, but a Rebels effort anywhere close to the Arizona game would have resulted in a victory.
“The small things — rebounding, chasing on a screen — we came into the game kind of BSing,” said freshman guard Jordan Cornish. "Yeah, we overlooked them.”
Fellow freshman Rashad Vaughn didn’t want to admit to looking past UNLV’s in-state rival but he clearly felt similarly.
“I lost a lot of sleep from that loss,” Vaughn said. “I was waiting to play another game. I can’t wait to go back there and play them again.”
The second meeting against UNR is still a couple of weeks away. First came a matchup against one of the nation's worst teams in two-win San Jose State.
The Spartans' Rashad Muhammad, a Bishop Gorman High product, entered averaging 13.3 points per game while Durango High grad Darryl Gaynor was fourth on the team at 8.4 per game. Together they shot 2 of 27 and scored only eight points.
“They were going to try to come in and do a lot of work and we had to shut that down,” Vaughn said.
Part of the film session in between games includes highlighting mistakes from the previous game, win or lose. Those sessions are usually a little more uncomfortable after losses, and after losing at home to a rival rated sub-300 in the RPI, Thursday’s film spared no one.
“He didn’t do it lightly, either,” Vaughn said of Rice. “He showed every clip to each and everybody. … It really hit home for a lot of guys. A lot of guys took it personally.”
Vaughn responded with his first collegiate double-double, 15 points and 10 rebounds. Dwayne Morgan scored 10, Cornish and Jelan Kendrick each scored nine and all 11 eligible Rebels scored at least three points, including walk-ons Barry Cheaney and Charles Rushman.
Rice had plenty of choices for his MVP from what’s sure to be the Rebels’ easiest conference game of the season and decided to go with a player who took only one shot. Sophomore Christian Wood, one of the best players in the league when he’s focused, grabbed 12 rebounds, blocked three shots and scored six on one shot and four free throws.
“The ball moved because he didn’t care about anything except getting guys involved and being a team guy,” Rice said. “From a leadership standpoint he showed great maturity.”
Wood has made 20 straight free throws, dating back to Dec. 17 against Portland, and this was the 10th game this season that he registered at least three blocks. Freshman Goodluck Okonoboh had four blocks, his seventh career game with that many.
The Rebels only major problem was giving up 12 offensive rebounds in the first half. That was a major issue in the last two games and while the Spartans weren’t capable of capitalizing on it they still went and beat the Rebels to a lot of balls.
San Jose State’s lone two victories this season were against Bethesda and St. Katherine, so there isn’t much to learn from tonight’s win itself. The more important lesson was individual performances as they related to effort and execution, and Rice seemed pleased with the rebounding as the main exception.
“Our guys made a concerted effort to try to get others involved,” Rice said.
As dominant as the score looked, just about everything is going to need to improve to get a victory or two on next week’s road trips to Boise State (Tuesday) and San Diego State (Saturday). The Rebels certainly feel better about themselves after their first conference victory, but the most important lesson this week was Thursday’s film session revealing what happens when they overlook a non-Spartans team in this league.