Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016 | 10:28 p.m.
The UNLV basketball team didn’t earn many style points for its 87-77 victory today against Boise State, but that’s of little importance. The final outcome — its fourth win in five games — is all that matters.
The Rebels overcame an eight-point halftime deficit and early flashes of poor play against one of the better Mountain West teams, showing they still have plenty of fight. And they still have some of the league’s better players — Pat McCaw, Ben Carter and Co. sure looked good down the stretch.
Here are some more observations:
What the game means: In what is billed as a do-or-die week, the Rebels pieced together one of their best 20 minutes of the season in disposing of an experienced Boise State squad. It’s the type of win that was needed after a lackluster performance last week against Reno, giving players confidence for the rest of the week — and season. Boise State entered with a 15-5 record and just one loss in league, but had no answers for UNLV's athleticism during the comeback. The Rebels scored in transition, played tight defense, hit their outside shots and fed off the energy from the crowd. Time will tell if a solid second half can carry into Saturday’s game against San Diego State in the second part of the "do-or-die" week.
McCaw has best game of season: If McCaw plays like this all season, things could get interesting. McCaw was easily the best player on the court, finishing with 25 points on 8 of 10 shooting and making big play after big play. Whether it was a 3-pointer to start a scoring rally or one of his five steals that led to points in transition, this version of Pat McCaw makes the Rebels a dangerous team. He’s been guilty at times this season of being too passive, but found the balance — at least tonight — of being aggressive and getting his teammates involved.
This play helped start the comeback: Freshman Derrick Jones Jr.’s put-back dunk for the initial points of the second half was one of a handful of highlight-reel style plays. He finished with 17 points on 6 of 8 shooting and had four offensive rebounds. While his game is more than those flashy dunks, the ability to ignite the crowd on one play by jumping above the defense has tremendous value. The home crowd had virtually nothing to cheer about until Jones’ dunk.
Impatient Ike: Ike Nwamu has seen better days. He went 0 for 4 from the field in the first half, including missing each of his three attempts on 3-pointers. One was an airball. The other barely touched the bottom of the net. And the last was a pull-up 3-pointer on the fast break — an ugly and ill-advised shot characteristic of the Rebels’ inconsistent play this season. Nwamu isn’t a bad player. He just had a bad start to his night. To his credit, Nwamu remained aggressive in the second half, three times being fouled on drives to the basket and converting a 3-point play with 3:44 to play to extend the UNLV to eight points. That’s a good sign moving forward.
Look at the stat sheet: After missing 14 foul shots in a two-point loss last week at UNR, the Rebels again struggled from the free throw line. The Rebels made just 17 of 27 attempts, including Derrick Jones missing 3 of 7 in the first half when Boise State built an eight-point halftime advantage ... Stephen Zimmerman Jr. was again solid with 18 points and eight rebounds. ... Ben Carter, you can argue, has been UNLV’s most valuable player all season. He had 10 points and 11 rebounds, and one block toward the end of the game to seal the victory ... Mikey Thompson, a Canyon Springs graduate, led Boise State with 19 points.
Up next: It’s easily the most important Mountain West game of the season. The Rebels at 5 p.m. Saturday host San Diego State in what should produce the best crowd of the season at the Thomas & Mack Center. San Diego State, the league’s perennial power and Rebels’ top rival, is again in first place. There is no love lost between the teams, or their fan bases, and the games always seem to be closely contested. Expect the same Saturday.