UNLV BASKETBALL:

After shaky exhibition, Rebels ready for season opener

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV guard Derrick Jasper rolls in two points on a breakaway against Washburn during a preseason game Tuesday. UNLV won the game 62-52.

UNLV vs. Pittsburg State

  • Pittsburg State Gorillas (10-17 last season) at UNLV Rebels (21-11 last season)

  • Where: Thomas and Mack Center

  • When: 7 p.m.

  • Coaches: Lon Kruger is 112-53 in five seasons at UNLV and 430-286 in 23 overall seasons; Gene Iba is 252-154 in 14 seasons at Pitt State and 478-357 in 29 overall seasons.

  • Series: First meeting

  • Line: None

  • TV/Radio: None/ESPN Radio 1100-AM

  • The Gorillas (last season)

  • G Spencer Magana (6-4, 192) 12.4 ppg

  • G Andy Smith (6-1, 185) 3.4 ppg

  • F C.J. Masters (6-5, 195) transfer

  • F Rodney Grace (6-6, 195) 10.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg

  • C Josh Walker (6-8, 250) freshman

  • Bench: F Quincy Owens (6-8, 235) 14 pts, 7 reb in Kansas State exhibition; F Jordan Embers (6-5, 205); G Brandon Coleman (6-1, 190); F JaVon McGee (6-5, 225).

  • What to watch: Iba is the nephew of the late, great Oklahoma State coach Henry “Hank” Iba, for whom Gene started coaching as a graduate assistant. Pitt State shot 31 percent in an exhibition against Kansas State and 36 percent against Kansas. The Wildcats and Jayhawks combined to shoot 17-of-41 from 3-point range against the Gorillas.

  • The Rebels (last season)

  • G Tre’Von Willis (6-4, 195) 11.4 ppg, 4.3 rpg

  • G Oscar Bellfield (6-2, 180) 6.2 ppg, 3.3 apg

  • G Derrick Jasper (6-6, 215) transfer

  • F Chace Stanback (6-8, 210) transfer

  • C Brice Massamba (6-10, 240) 2 ppg

  • Bench: G Kendall Wallace (6-4, 190) 4.6 ppg; F Darris Santee (6-8, 225); G Justin Hawkins (6-3, 190); G Anthony Marshall (6-3, 200); F Matt Shaw (6-8, 240); G Steve Jones (6-1, 220); G Todd Hanni (6-4, 215); F Mychal Martinez (6-5, 205); G Tyler Norman (6-0, 190).

  • What to watch: The Rebels open their sixth season under Kruger. They are 4-1 in openers with Kruger running the show, but have won four in a row after that 64-54 defeat to St. Mary's to start his UNLV career. Stanback in the starting lineup should give the Rebels a boost from the beginning.

It’s about time, said UNLV junior point guard Derrick Jasper. Finally healthy for the first time since high school, he will make his debut as a Rebel tonight in a season opener against Pittsburg State.

His long road back from microfracture knee surgery started in Lexington, Ky., and took him to Las Vegas, where he hopes to start living out some dreams.

“I’m just real excited to get out and compete with my teammates,” Jasper said Friday afternoon after practice inside the Thomas & Mack Center, where his mother, Sue, watched from the stands.

“I’m real excited to put that (No. 5) jersey on. It’s the season opener, when the games really start. We have to take every game one at a time and concentrate on every one.”

He started 33 of the 54 games he played for the Kentucky Wildcats, and he averaged 4 points and 4.3 rebounds.

“That seems like a long time ago,” Jasper said. “I’ve been sitting out so long, rehabbing over the past year … (Kentucky) really seems like a long time ago.”

It might also seem like a long time ago when Pittsburg State coach Gene Iba, 68, began coaching basketball, but tonight’s game marks the beginning of the end of his 30 years in the business.

He announced his retirement, at the end of this season, in September.

Half of that stretch has been with the Division-II Gorillas, who were belted over the past week in exhibitions by No. 1 Kansas (103-45) and Kansas State (89-53).

Kruger went to graduate school at Pitt State, in Pittsburg, Kan., when his wife Barb taught at a middle school a year after they were married.

Kruger and Iba have matched wits only once, in 1984-85, when Kruger was in his third season as a head coach at Texas-Pan American. Iba was at Houston Baptist. Kruger’s Broncs won, 60-59.

“They won’t come in here and be surprised by anything,” Kruger said of the Gorillas’ pair of exhibition drubbings.

The Rebels had 35 minutes of difficulty with Washburn in their exhibition game Tuesday night, but the Ichabods didn’t score again after taking a 52-51 lead with 4 minutes, 44 seconds remaining.

UNLV escaped with a 62-52 victory.

“I’m expecting everyone to come out and play hard, to play a lot better than we did in the exhibition game,” said Rebels sophomore forward Chace Stanback. “We’ve been practicing well the past three days and I feel good about (tonight).”

After going 0-for-6 in the first half against Washburn, Stanback turned it on, hitting six of his eight shots in the second half and scoring 15 points in the final 15 minutes.

“It was a team effort,” Stanback said. “Everyone came together.”

But did he feel a sense of urgency in that second half?

“Yeah, I definitely did,” Stanback said. “I felt like I played terrible in the first half. That was probably the worst I ever played … a lot of it was nerves. I hadn’t played in almost two years.”

That outstanding effort made Kruger put Stanback into the starting lineup, in place of senior power forward Darris Santee, for tonight’s game.

Two seasons ago on a Final Four team at UCLA, Stanback averaged less than six minutes and two points in 25 games as a Bruin.

He transferred to UNLV and sat out last season, and he said many Rebels were unhappy with their first half against the Ichabods. At the intermission, UNLV had a precarious 28-24 lead.

“A lot of that was not playing hard,” Stanback said. “Coach expects more from me, more out of everyone. That’s why we came out in the second half and played a little bit better.

“Still, it wasn’t good enough. But we’ll get there. We got all the dust, all the cobwebs off. We’re going to give a better effort than we did Tuesday. Look for that.”

Click to enlarge photo

UNLV guard Chace Stanback dishes off a pass against Washburn during a preseason game Tuesday. UNLV won the game 62-52.

It starts a stretch in which the Rebels play five home games over 15 days, capped by an afternoon meeting with Louisville on Nov. 28.

Jasper said concentrating on defense, communicating and not “slouching on offense” were priorities in practice since Washburn.

That third aspect is a big part of his responsibility as the floor general.

“I’m looking to be more aggressive, take a little more leadership role and get the offense sharper,” Jasper said. “We didn’t really have sharp passes in the exhibition, so I’ll work on that.”

Kruger and his staff have been testing Jasper at power forward. The 6-foot-8 native of Paso Robles, Calif., has a great knack for getting rebounds and his dribbling prowess would give him an edge on offense.

With a closed scrimmage against Long Beach State and the exhibition against Washburn under his belt, Jasper said he’s ready to start taking over games.

He said he might have deferred too much Tuesday night, so constantly being aggressive, as a threat to always take the ball to the hole and draw attention to free teammates, will be his main strategy.

“You have to do both,” Jasper said. “Against Washburn, I was deferring to my teammates a lot, trying to set up people. I think in this game I’ll be more aggressive. You have to do both.

“You have to know when to attack and know when not to attack … know when to get your teammates a shot and know when to get yourself a shot.”

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  1. these players are hungry. that is something last years team DID NOT have. the 2 teams that went to the tourny had that hunger. if this team has that hunger and blends well, they should make the tourny. if they dont win the regular season, i think their roster is made for a conference tournament. they should win the MWC tourney this year. there is no excuse if they dont. so, this better be another season in the tourney and atleast one win in the tourney.

    if they lose in the first round of the tourny, it wont exactly be a failure..depending on how well the team blended and the hope for next season.

    rebbbelllss :)

    sufferin, are you mad when you walk into the Thomas and Mack? do you ever say "wow, nice pass" or do you only say "FIRE KRUGER"

    if we had Pitino, imagine what the program would be going through right now with the extortion? the NCAA loves to punish UNLV, gotta remember that, especially when hiring coaches that open their wallet when hiring recruits.

  2. There is no reason why we shouldn't win by 40 tonight. We have the athletes, the length, the depth, the shooters, the slashers, the dunkers, the playground AND1 ballers turned organized. Roll the ball out there and run up the score!!

  3. Very excited for tonight. As painful as most of the exhibition was to watch, I still can't wait to get to my seats in the T&M.

    With Santee losing his starting spot, I will be very interested to see how he does. Has the staff figured out the right move to motivate him to produce a Fresno St. type effort? Or is this going to be another death blow to his seemingly fragile psyche (like benching him last year)?

  4. Big key this year is making shots. Our perimeter guys must knock down looks when they get them. There will be very little inside scoring just like last year. If our guards can stick their jumpers and we can get out, pressure and create turnovers we can be dangerous. Otherwise...Sufferin is going to have alot more fuel.