Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Saturday, Nov. 13, 2010 | 2:15 a.m.
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Ryan Greene and Ray Brewer break down what was a more lopsided than normal opener for UNLV, as the Rebels' offseason improvements were all on display in an 85-41 thrashing of lowly UC Riverside. The guys give you numbers and analysis, plus a look at how Tre'Von Willis fits back into the rotation next week and what's going on with freshman Karam Mashour.
UC Riverside came into the Thomas & Mack Center on Friday night with 11 players in uniform, none of them having ever played together in a Division-I basketball game.
UNLV made sure the Highlanders looked the part.
The Rebels jumped out early and cruised to an 85-41 season-opening victory that left the 12,970 Rebels fans in attendance drooling over the potential of Lon Kruger's most athletic team in seven seasons on campus.
"At a point there, they broke Riverside a little bit and took away their interest a bit," Kruger said afterward. "That's a good quality to have."
The Rebels' emotions fed off of their physical success all night, as they carried themselves with a distinct swagger that had not been seen from some of the players quite so much in the past.
It all stemmed back to a torrid start to the game that left a UCR team comprised of nine transfers, a true freshman and a senior point guard who missed last season due to injury scrambling.
The UNLV back-court trio of junior Oscar Bellfield, sophomore Anthony Marshall and senior Derrick Jasper, as it did in each of the team's two exhibition romps, set the tone by flustering UC Riverside's offense before it could even get established.
By the time the teams went to the locker rooms at the intermission, Marshall had 10 points and seven assists, with a few nice finishes in transition. Bellfield had 10 points, three assists and several aggressive moves to collapse the Highlanders' defense. Jasper was on pace for a career-high in rebounds, with 10 caroms in 17 minutes before the break.
"We have great chemistry," Jasper said of the trio. "They're just two great guards to play with. Anthony's so versatile, can do a lot of things. Oscar sees the floor so well coming down. We just play well together."
Meanwhile, with help from Jasper's 13 rebounds, the revamped corps of big men led the way as the Rebels won the battle on the glass, 48-39.
Thomas finished with eight points and five rebounds in his UNLV debut, while redshirt freshman Carlos Lopez had five points, six boards, four assists and four first half blocks. Junior Brice Massamba chipped in with six points and two rebounds, playing only 15 minutes.
What everyone contributed to, though, was a strong defensive effort that hardly ever lagged despite the spread on the scoreboard constantly growing.
UC Riverside was far from a cohesive team, and it showed on paper, as the Highlanders were forced into 18 turnovers. They recorded only six assists and were an awful 15-of-67 from the floor, with several shot attempts coming easy against UNLV's sweltering pressure.
Both Marshall and Stanback credited the last two days' practices for setting the Rebels' defensive tone, saying that the two sessions were as intense as the team has held since the Oct. 15 start.
They never showed a single sign of letting up on the Highlanders until the bench was completely cleared in the final four minutes.
"We were doing everything we could to make them uncomfortable," Stanback said.
UNLV will likely have the option of imposing its will again when it takes the floor next Wednesday against Southeastern Louisiana. A better measuring stick of just how good the Rebels are will be next Saturday's highly-anticipated home matinee against Wisconsin.
Still, the thoughts of the possibilities — especially once last year's leading scorer and first team All-Mountain West performer Tre'Von Willis returns next week from suspension — were what had many buzzing on their way to the parking lot.
If the Rebels can keep having success while playing at such an intense pace on both ends of the floor, they could make many teams much better than UC Riverside look just as flustered.
"We want to find our identity, and we just want to be a ball club that competes on every possession," Marshall said. "And that's what we tried to do tonight."