Andy Carpenean / AP
Thursday, Feb. 4, 2010 | 2:30 a.m.
LARAMIE, Wyo. — Road games are not supposed to be that stress-free.
But in a game which could have been a trap against a non-marquee opponent, sandwiched between an eight-day layoff and a much-anticipated three-game stretch, UNLV really only felt the heat from Wyoming for a couple minutes Wednesday.
The rest of the Rebels' 78-50 blowout victory — the Cowboys' worst home loss since 1959 — was as neat and clean of a performance as Lon Kruger's ball club has delivered all season.
"It didn't look too good when they got the tip and (layup with a foul) three seconds into the game," junior guard Tre'Von Willis said of Wyoming's quick early score. "We'd talked about Wyoming for five, six straight days. It feels good to get on the court against an opponent and do what you want a little bit. We definitely did it, all 10 guys tonight, and that's what we're proud of."
After Wyoming (9-13 overall, 2-6 Mountain West) grabbed that early 2-0 lead, it was all downhill for the hosts in front of a rather docile and sparse home crowd.
In their first game without junior guard Derrick Jasper, who was seated at the end of the bench in street clothes, UNLV (18-4, 6-2) ran out to a 40-27 halftime lead, with all 10 players who saw the floor scoring before the break.
A 10-1 run to open up the second half sent the message to the Cowboys for good that the Rebels were not at all looking forward to Saturday's matinee at the Thomas & Mack Center against No. 12 BYU, which in first place in the league standings, a game ahead of UNLV.
"We didn't want to relax," junior forward Matt Shaw said. "I think earlier in the year, San Diego State had a pretty big lead and Wyoming came back. So we had to come out, play even harder in the second half than we did in the first half."
The Aztecs did blow a 20-point lead in a loss in Laramie in the first week of conference action, and no one took charge quite like Shaw in making sure that the Rebels didn't allow that to happen again.
In that 10-1 run to open the second frame, he hit a 3-pointer atop the key and dropped in a bucket in close off of a nice spin move.
Later, after Wyoming clawed back to within 15, he again went on a scoring spurt, ultimately finishing with a game-high 16 points on 7-of-9 shooting.
Shaw stepped up to the plate after starter Brice Massamba was held to only eight minutes on the night thanks to foul trouble and Darris Santee picked up three fouls in the first three minutes of the second half.
But Shaw's most significant contribution may have been his six defensive rebounds, as the Rebels didn't skip a beat without Jasper on the floor. The 6-foot-6 guard had been UNLV's most effective defensive rebounder of late. As a team, the Rebels looked meaner in general on the boards, and no one carried a bigger sneer than Shaw.
Kruger wanted his big men to help answer the bell with Jasper's 4.9 rebounds per game no longer in the lineup. Santee had five defensive boards in 14 minutes of play.
"I thought Matt got some big, strong rebounds there ... late, especially," Kruger said. "Darris did a lot of good things; Matt came in and did a lot of good things. The big guys continue to share that role very well."
Meanwhile, it didn't hurt that the two guys who have been the Rebels' steadiest producers on the road in league play — Willis and sophomore forward Chace Stanback — were their usual selves.
Willis finished his well-rounded night with 15 points, eight rebounds and four assists, while Wyoming didn't have a defensive answer for Stanback, who scored 12 points, grabbed five rebounds, dished out three assists and registered three blocks.
UNLV out-rebounded Wyoming 41-34, and while the Rebels had 20 assists compared to 10 turnovers, the Cowboys had seven assists and 14 giveaways.
"I felt like we didn't make that many mistakes. Everybody was passing the ball to each other, making open plays for each other. It was a great game for us," Stanback said, beaming. "I don't think all 10 guys are gonna be able to contribute every game, but it's nice to see that. We have to have different guys step up every game with Derrick out. We've got to pick up the slack."
Ravaged by injuries of late, Wyoming was hardly equipped to get out of the hole that UNLV put it in.
And now it's OK for the Rebels to turn the focus to the Cougars, who UNLV has gotten the best of the last six times they've met at the Mack.
It's expected to be one of the more energetic home atmospheres UNLV has had all season, as less than 1,800 tickets were still available at the time Wednesday's game concluded.
Though UNLV is now 8-1 in true road games this season, a late-game collapse in a 77-73 loss Jan. 6 at BYU is something the Rebels hardly have forgotten.
They couldn't have asked for a better performance to head into it.
"Now. It starts now," Shaw said of when the team would start thinking of Saturday's foe. "As soon as the clock hit zero, we realized we've got a big one coming up. We've got to be mentally prepared for that, and it's gonna be a fight."