Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Thursday, Dec. 30, 2010 | 9:15 p.m.
Three-win Central Michigan wasn’t supposed to provide much of a challenge for the UNLV basketball team Thursday in its final tune-up before the start of Mountain West Conference play.
And, 15 minutes into the game, the visitor’s only had eight points. Not a major surprise. UNLV’s stingy defense, which has been one of the Rebels’ strengths all year, limited Central Michigan to 35 percent shooting for the game and forced 25 turnovers in a 73-47 victory.
While the defense was solid, let’s not be blind to the fact that Central Michigan isn’t a quality opponent and was lost offensively for parts of the night. When the opposition isn’t certain where to be on the court, it makes playing defense that much easier.
Still, strong defense helps create offensive opportunities, and the Rebels need all the help they can get on the offensive end. Their Achilles heel of inconsistent outside shooting (they were 4-of-13 on 3-pointers after missing nine of their initial 10 attempts) and limited contributions from the interior players will surely be a problem all season.
Here are some other observations from Thursday’s game.
• Derrick Jasper doesn’t play like someone that has had trouble with both knees. The 6-foot-6 senior guard, who missed the Southern Utah game two weeks ago to rest his ailing knee, plays with no hesitation. I know several questioned his toughness when he didn’t return last year after being injured, but any doubts about his health should be answered with one sequence midway through the first half. Jasper came up with a loose ball around midcourt and aggressively took the ball toward the basket in transition. He elevated to the rim, and even though he was called for an offensive foul, showed a fearless type of play that makes Jasper one of the team’s most important players.
• After limiting Central Michigan to eight points in the initial 15 minutes, the Rebels only led 21-17 with three minutes to play in the first half. The Rebels surrendered a 12-1 run. On most night’s that would raise a red flag, but considering UNLV led 33-20 at halftime, there is no reason to panic. Past teams have often played at the level of their opponents, but that hasn’t been the case this year.
• The hustle and determination Justin Hawkins brings to the game off the bench is refreshing to watch. In the first half, when Central Michigan mounted its brief rally, Hawkins was quick to react after a Central Michigan player grabbed a defensive rebound. The sophomore guard was able to sneak from behind to steal the ball then dove into the front of the seat to save it from going out of bounds. It’s those kind of intangibles that are invaluable and, unfortunately, often overlooked.
• The home white uniforms the Rebels sported Thursday don’t have as much appeal as the all-black ones they’ve worn a few times this year.
• Hated rival BYU invades the Thomas & Mack Center next Wednesday for UNLV’s Mountain West Conference opener. That is bad timing for arguably the most significant league game of the year — a Wednesday during winter break. What? Sellouts or near-capacity crowds for BYU-UNLV games make the rivalry more intense. Let’s just say BYU will get a break if the Kruger’s Korner student section isn’t at full strength.