Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018 | 10:03 p.m.
Ray Brewer, Mike Grimala and Case Keefer take on UNLV's contrasting fortunes. The football team is on a small upswing, while the basketball team looks to have a long way to go. Wait, what? How did we get here?
Now that’s more like it.
Had the Rebels followed a similar script on Saturday in the season opener against Loyola Marymount, there would be a lot more optimism surrounding the UNLV program right now. Regrettably, the Rebels dropped the first game but looked more like the team most observers expected in blowing out Riverside.
Hamilton was the most obvious difference from Game 1 to Game 2. The freshman guard came off the bench once again, but he was more aggressive against Riverside, knocking in back-to-back 3-pointers late in the first half to give UNLV some breathing room.
In the second half, Hamilton showed his off-the-dribble skills by driving for a layup and finishing through contact for an and-1. He also hit another 3-pointer to finish the game 3-of-3 from long distance.
That’s the kind of offensive impact Hamilton can provide. The 6-foot-4 lefty headlined UNLV’s 2018 recruiting class as a consensus 4-star prospect, but against Loyola, he played just six minutes and went scoreless on 0-of-3 shooting.
Hamilton said his teammates helped him maintain his confidence after his rough debut.
“It felt good,” Hamilton said. “My teammates kept encouraging me, because the first game didn’t go very well. But it was a great win and I was just glad to help the team out.”
Head coach Marvin Menzies attributed Hamilton's improved play to being more decisive on the court and not stopping the Rebels' ball movement.
"We had a lot of conversations about pounding the ball too much and dribbling — over-dribbling — which is a common mistake for high school players," Menzies said. "I think that it was good to have him learn the lesson from the last game of keeping it hot and sharing it, and he was often the recipient of a pass that led to a basket. So it wasn't just, he came down and went 1-on-1. A lot of those were passes after we had shifted the defense. He just learned."
Led by Hamilton’s perfect 3-point shooting, UNLV was much more competitive from beyond the arc than the disastrous shooting performance in the opener. The Rebels made 7-of-19 from deep (36.8 percent), with four players connecting from downtown.
UNLV also cleaned up its ball-handling issues from the first game, committing just 13 giveaways after a brutal 24-turnover showing on Saturday. Senior point guard Noah Robotham cut his turnovers from six to two, while senior guard Kris Clyburn went from five to one.
One story line to monitor going forward is the play of Shakur Juiston. The senior forward is positioned to be UNLV's offensive focal point, but he had his second straight sub-par outing to start the season, posting just six points in 28 minutes.
Defensively, the Rebels overwhelmed an inferior Riverside squad, forcing 20 turnovers and allowing just 19 made field goals.
The win didn’t make up for Saturday’s shocking loss, but Menzies liked the way his team responded.
“Still got a little bad taste in my mouth from the previous game, but it’s good to at least start the cleansing process,” Menzies said. “I was excited to see them bounce back and play better basketball. But we still obviously have a lot of growth and development in front of us.”