Wednesday, Dec. 24, 2008 | 2:09 a.m.
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Ryan Greene and Rob Miech discuss UNLV's 73-60 defeat of Southern Utah on Tuesday night at the Thomas & Mack Center, plus Wink Adams' injury mid-way through the first half. His departure thrust Kendall Wallace into expanded action, and the sophomore gunner responded. Plus, why René Rougeau is the team's unquestioned MVP to this point in the season. And, what needs to change before the Rebels take on Louisville on New Year's Eve.
Kendall Wallace isn't often compared to Wink Adams in terms of style of play.
But on Tuesday night, following a spark-plug effort off the bench in a 73-60 victory over Southern Utah in the Thomas & Mack Center, he earned some even higher praise, believe it or not.
"We call him Steve Nash now after a few of those shots he hit," senior swingman René Rougeau said. "I couldn't believe he was hitting those. He's really coming into his own now, hitting good shots, basically just playing his role he has to play for us."
That role caught a significant spike mid-way through Tuesday's first half, when Adams, the Rebels’ leading scorer and senior anchor, went down in a heap with what is being diagnosed as a strained abdominal muscle.
After Adams was assisted to the locker room, Wallace came in to play a season-high 23 minutes, scoring a career-best 15 points on 5-of-7 shooting. He also added three assists and three rebounds to his stat line.
It was his most well-rounded performance of the season when you factor in the turnaround, tear-drop baseline jumper he canned in the second half, along with the acrobatic driving layup he put in off the glass while being fouled. Those were simply bonuses on top of the trio of 3-pointers he'd already hit.
"It gives me a little more confidence when I'm doing a lot of other things on the floor, and they can't just focus on me shooting the ball," Wallace said. "I'm able to do a lot more when they focus on me shooting the ball. I'm able to drive and find open people.
"It's definitely gonna help my confidence, and hopefully coach will have a little more confidence in me. I think it's a good thing for me, and I'm building some momentum."
"Building" is an accurate description, considering this came on the heels of his two big first half 3-pointers in Saturday's 79-64 victory over Arizona in the Mack.
No one's ever doubted his ability to hit the outside shot. But his penchant for producing elsewhere on the floor against the Thunderbirds settled the nerves of several Rebels fans in attendance who might have had a hard time shaking the image of Adams being painfully aided off the floor.
"He's probably playing with as much confidence now as he has at any point in his career," coach Lon Kruger said.
That's good news for UNLV, no matter what the outcome is of Adams' MRI on Wednesday.
If Adams is able to play on Dec. 31 at Louisville and the rotation returns to normal, Wallace said a performance like Tuesday's can do nothing but boost confidence for when he plays his typical smattering of minutes.
But should Adams be out, the likely culprits in needing to pick things up are Wallace and fellow sophomore Tre'Von Willis, who scored eight points and grabbed four rebounds in 19 minutes.
"I'm not sure -- probably similar to these last couple of games, playing a little more," Wallace said when asked what he thought his role would be if Adams is to miss time. "Coach harps a lot on practice, so I've got to pick it up in practice and in the games.
"I think everyone gets a little more aggressive offensively (if Wink's out). We need to pick up the scoring. It's not just gonna come from Wink, where we stand around and watch Wink go to work. I think everyone's more aggressive."
But, again, talking about Adams missing any significant time is jumping the gun. And the Rebels don't need Wallace to be Steve Nash -- just the Kendall Wallace they've come to expect.
That was on display Tuesday night.
"(Kruger) wants me to shoot when I come out, and I think if I was passing on open shots, he'd probably take me right back out," Wallace said. "So I just try to go in and not do too much and just play inside the game plan.
"I'm pretty confident now, and I think it shows a little bit when I'm playing."