Jeremy Rincon / Special to the Sun
Saturday, March 7, 2015 | 10:47 p.m.
It's a loaded show this week as Las Vegas Sun sports writers Ray Brewer and Taylor Bern get into UNLV's tribute to Tark, Tony Sanchez winning the offseason, guessing Stephen Zimmerman's decision and more.
Jelan Kendrick’s last shot meant more to people wagering on the game than it did to teammates, but everything before that was exactly what UNLV needed. In the final regular season game of his career, Kendrick scored a career-high 21 points on 9-of-13 shooting with seven rebounds, six assists and only one turnover, the best example of his upward trend the last month of the season.
“I’m really happy how my teammates are moving, setting picks, rebounding, making the extra pass,” Kendrick said after UNLV’s 71-58 victory against San Jose State in the Events Center. “Things like that, things that we struggled with early in the season, I feel like we’re starting to pick it up.”
The Rebels (17-14, 8-10) finished the regular season seventh in the Mountain West, their lowest spot in the standings since the league started in 1999, and UNLV will play No. 10 seed UNR in the Mountain West tournament at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday on the Mountain West Network. UNLV’s only path to another NCAA Tournament is winning that one and the next three to cut down the nets at the Thomas & Mack Center for the first time since 2008.
“We’re not thinking about four games in four days; we’re thinking about one game in one day, period,” said UNLV coach Dave Rice.
Despite playing with only six scholarship players, UNLV was anywhere from minus-12 to minus-13.5 tonight, depending on where and when you bet it. There was a fraction of a second more on the shot clock than the game clock as Kendrick dribbled it out, so he figured he might as well take one more shot, which affected a lot of tickets, but only a few minutes earlier the outcome was still in doubt.
San Jose State (2-28, 0-18), which isn’t eligible for the postseason because of APR infractions, trailed by five with four minutes remaining. After hitting only 2-of-14 beyond the arc in the first half, the Spartans kept it close by making 7 of 14 after halftime.
“What won the game for us was Dwayne (Morgan)’s energy and the fact that the last five or six minutes we didn’t give up any 3s,” Rice said.
Morgan continued his recent emergence with 11 points on 4-of-8 shooting plus four rebounds, three assists and two steals. Foul trouble has often limited Morgan’s minutes this season, but he didn’t have any issue with that tonight, logging his most minutes (27) since the second game of the year.
“To see him blossom before my eyes is really special,” Kendrick said of Morgan, a 38.7 percent shooter for the season who made 60.7 of his attempts over the final four games.
Sophomore Christian Wood logged his 18th double-double of the season (19 points, 12 rebounds) despite UNLV’s plans to really exploit his size advantage not completely coming to fruition against the Spartans’ sagging defense and double teams. The Rebels adjusted, hit 7 of 15 3-point attempts and got out in transition, leading fast-break points 17-5.
Kendrick has been a big factor in UNLV’s transition game of late, but he and the rest of the team are hoping freshman Pat McCaw will be able to return to some of those duties by Wednesday. McCaw was knocked out of Wednesday’s loss to San Diego State with a concussion, and he’s currently going through the NCAA’s protocol to get cleared to play.
“We’re cautiously optimistic to have him on Tuesday for practice, but nothing is certain,” Rice said, adding that there are currently no updates on the timetables for freshmen guard Rashad Vaughn (partially torn meniscus) and Dantley Walker (sprained MCL).
Kendrick doesn’t want to settle for just getting McCaw back. He wants all three guards.
Seventh place isn’t what anyone in the program had in mind for this season, and Kendrick wants all hands on deck for the Rebels’ shot at redemption.
“When we decided this was our team — whoever needed to transfer transferred, whoever wanted to stay stayed — we all made a pact to each other that this was our team and we’re going to play for each other,” Kendrick said. “It’s not just one guy. We need everybody.”