Friday, Dec. 18, 2009 | 12:02 a.m.
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Ryan Greene and Ray Brewer discuss UNLV's 72-63 victory over Weber State, which may have been the Rebels' overall smoothest showing so far in a 9-1 start to the season. Plus, the guys take a look at the positives which come from the school's Thursday hiring of Jim Livengood as its new athletic director.
It was a game that, for the most part, was anticlimactic.
Coach Lon Kruger had preached through the team's first nine games this season the need to string 40 consistent minutes together.
In the 10th game, he got it.
"That's probably the closest," he said afterward.
His players shared that feeling.
"From an energy standpoint, we put 40 minutes together," said junior guard Tre'Von Willis. "We were pretty pleased with ourselves about that."
Slow starts in their last four games have made the Rebels (9-1) rely on big second-half performances in an attempt to finish on top.
Against the Wildcats (5-5), they started fast, held strong the rest of the first half and slammed on the gas pedal to start the second half. That was pretty much all she wrote.
Despite UNLV holding a lead which lingered around 10 points for much of the night, the game never seemed to be in question.
Helping create much of the separation was a stifling defensive effort that held Weber State, which came in shooting 42.9 percent from the floor and averaging 75.9 points per game, to few open looks from, well, anywhere.
The Wildcats shot 36.4 percent from the floor, and leading scorer Damian Lillard, averaging 19.6 points per game entering Thursday's action, scored just eight points on abysmal 2-of-13 shooting. Those two field goals were both meaningless, late 3-pointers.
"Lillard is such a good player, and I thought guys really battled him early and were disruptive in things that they were wanting to do," Kruger said. "I thought our guys' awareness was really good and they took a lot of pride in battling a very good player in Lillard."
Added junior guard Derrick Jasper: "We had a lot more urgency on offense and defense. We communicated a lot more on defense, were more alert and I think that really benefited us this game."
The urgency on the offense helped UNLV turn in one of its more fluid efforts of the year on that end of the floor.
The Rebels were surprisingly efficient from long range, hitting 10 of their 23 attempts. That effort was spearheaded by junior forward Matt Shaw, whose career-high 16 points came in large part thanks to going 4-of-6 from deep.
"A couple of guys out there, when I made some shots, seemed like they were kind of mad, looking at their coach," said Shaw, who had hit only three long balls in nine games this season leading up to Thursday night. "Like they didn't expect that. Maybe it wasn't on the scouting report."
Even if Weber State had prepared for it, Shaw was silent in his movements and difficult to detect. Instead of running out to the perimeter in an effort to force the action his way, he quietly popped out after setting screens for his guards.
"I've got good rhythm stepping into a jumper, rather than running out to the wing, catching and shooting," he said.
While Shaw made good in his second consecutive start of the season, sophomore forward Chace Stanback maintained his perch as the Rebels' hottest performer of late.
Shaw's two 3-pointers in the game's early going helped build the Rebels' initial lead, while Stanback helped preserve it throughout the first half.
He scored 11 of his 15 points in the game's first 20 minutes, and his growing confidence was visible for anyone paying attention in the crowd of 15,715.
After hitting a three atop the key, he snapped his fingers as he pumped his fist. Later in the half, he schooled a defender in a one-on-one situation, taking a quick jab step right with a dribble, then drawing back to his left, moving back a tad and swishing an 18-foot jumper with a desperate hand in his face.
Stanback is now averaging 14.7 points per game over his last three outings on combined 17-of-31 shooting — or 54.8 percent. In that stretch he's hit five of his 11 attempts from deep after going 1-of-14 in his first seven games as a Rebel.
To boot, he had five rebounds and a career-high four blocks against the overwhelmed Wildcats.
"I'm just excited — I usually do show a lot of emotion when I'm successful with my shot," he said of the confident look he's giving. "It all comes with extra shots that I've been getting up (in practice), my teammates looking for me more."
Added Kruger: "The last three games, Chace has continued to play with more and more confidence, and he's a guy that can score, and we need him to score. We need him to stay aggressive. He rebounded the ball well, got his hands on a lot of balls defensively."
The Rebels now have a golden opportunity to get to 10-1 before departing Sunday for the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu, as South Carolina Upstate visits the Thomas & Mack Center for a 7 p.m. tip Saturday.
The Spartans are 1-8 this season, with those eight losses having come by an average margin of 14.1 points.
Meanwhile, UNLV appeared to have rid itself of any lingering effect from Saturday's 95-80 loss to Kansas State at the Orleans Arena by showing gradual improvements across the board.
"Especially when you shoot the ball, make some threes, that makes everything a little better," Kruger said. "We rebounded the ball much better in the second half and I thought our awareness defensively was as good as it's been. So, we feel like we took some steps over the last couple of games. We need to keep doing that."