Thursday, Dec. 18, 2008 | 2:09 a.m.
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Ryan Greene and Rob Miech discuss UNLV's 78-66 victory over Santa Clara, an efficient, complete effort which leads perfectly into Saturday's showdown with Arizona. The guys break down Wink Adams busting his shooting slump, the inside presence of Brice Massamba and other tidbits from the Mack.
The physical parts of Brice Massamba's game are evolving, but in his biggest test yet as a Rebel he proved that he's got the mental aspect down.
The 6-foot-10, 255-pound UNLV freshman notched five points and four rebounds in the Rebels' 78-66 victory over Santa Clara on Wednesday night, which served as a 40-minute diversion from the wintry blast outside the Thomas & Mack Center.
But playing the game within the game, Massamba maybe had the best strategic moment of the night for Lon Kruger's club.
With 11 minutes, 51 seconds left in the half, and UNLV holding only a modest 14-8 lead, Massamba crashed the defensive boards amidst a mess of bodies. A moment later, he was flung to the floor by Santa Clara's ace -- senior John Bryant, a 6-11, 275-pound mountain of a center.
The whistle blew, and Bryant was relegated to the bench with his second foul. He got some words in for Massamba before heading to the bench.
"I just told him, 'Do it again and we'll see what happens,'" Massamba said afterward. "He was the No. 1 guy on their team. We kept him to 10 or 12 (points) today, and he had two points in the second half. So it felt really good. In the second half, he started playing much dirtier. You have to keep fighting through it."
Massamba said Bryant's second half included more trash-talking and some well-placed elbows. But that was nothing more than window dressing.
While Bryant sat on the bench for the next five minutes, the Rebels extended the lead to double digits. Everything the Broncos’ big man did after that point was pretty much pedestrian. He finished with 12 points and 15 boards, but lost the chess match.
"Coach told us to keep banging on him, because he got tired easier. He got mad easier, too," Massamba said.
Added Kruger: "Brice doesn't mind the physical play. And again, Bryant is one of the guys that's a lot bigger. Darris (Santee) set a good tone there early on Bryant, and then I thought Brice came in and picked it up with some energy. I thought we made him work for his points."
Wink Adams had a better vantage point than anyone for the play that changed the mental tides, as he jumped in to separate the two centers and offered a few verbal jabs of his own.
"Every guard's gotta protect his big," he said. "I hear Brice saying some words, other team's saying words to him, I've gotta jump in and say some words, too. I had to jump in and back up my big. But after that, we kind of went to the side, got everybody together and said we've got to play through it, can't get caught into that."
The Rebels didn't fall into a potential pitfall. When Bryant checked back into the game, UNLV was leading by 12, and Santa Clara never made a serious push from that point on.
Massamba looked good before the tussle with Bryant, too. After bullying his way closer to the rim with the ball, he drew the defense in and kicked out to Tre'Von Willis, who splashed an open 3-pointer.
Massamba also got to the free-throw line following a gritty offensive board.
It was the second game in a row in which the Rebels' now-set-in-stone No. 2 center looked the part of a somewhat-seasoned contributor.
He was able to gauge just how far he's come when asked to compare his comfort level on the floor from the season's first game to Wednesday night — on a scale of one to 10.
"I was maybe six in the first couple of games," he said. "This game, I was probably a 10. It feels normal, now. You're a college player now."
His teammates are taking notice, too. It's hard not to.
Between Santee and Massamba, the Rebels got 16 points and 10 rebounds. Massamba's showing that he's capable of taking some of the pressure off Santee.
That could prove valuable when UNLV gets another big challenge this Saturday with Arizona coming to town. The Wildcats' leading scorer (18.8 ppg) and rebounder (11.8 rpg) is 6-foot-10 junior Jordan Hill — a potential lottery pick in the next NBA Draft.
Massamba is evolving by relying on hustle plays, which he showed early in practice. But he's also gaining a reputation among fellow Rebels for another specialty — flopping.
Which shifts the focus back to his signature play from Wednesday night.
Was it a flop or wasn't it?
"I don't think so," Adams said with a laugh. "Bryant's pretty tough. However you can get the ball and get a rebound, you've got to do it, and that's how Brice was doing it tonight.
"I tell him he's one of the best floppers I've ever seen in college basketball. He's a good player, but he flops with the best of them. He plays physical. He plays smart, though. He knows how to trick the refs and get a lot of fouls. That's how he's effective, that's how he is a part of this team. Whenever he can do that, you've gotta stick behind him."