Thursday, Dec. 8, 2011 | 12:15 a.m.
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And then he pulled a rabbit out of a hat, found a coin behind your ear and guessed your card (the queen of hearts).
OK, only the former paragraph is true, but Hawkins’ night — a team-high 23 points on 9-of-12 shooting, seven rebounds and five steals in 25 minutes — made you believe that he’s capable of just about anything.
“He’s like a magnet for the basketball,” said Chace Stanback, who scored 16 points. “He always seems to get steals when you don’t expect him to.”
The sequence in question occurred with 11:50 remaining in a game that had long been decided.
Hawkins grabbed an offensive rebound and drew a foul. After a media timeout, he stepped to the free-throw line, made both shots and then stole the inbounds pass for an easy layup before the Cougars knew what happened.
Coach Dave Rice knew that an NAIA opponent would give him the chance to put bench players in earlier in the game. Nobody did more with that opportunity than Hawkins.
Although, according to Rice, this is exactly what he has come to expect of the junior every day.
“Justin Hawkins has been absolutely terrific this whole year. He just brings it every night,” Rice said. “One thing we want our program to be judged on is consistency, and there hasn’t been a more consistent player than Justin Hawkins in terms of what he brings.”
What he brings is a nose for the ball on defense and the ability to turn it around into instant offense. Hawkins is constantly pressuring the other team’s best ball-handler, a skill that will be put to the test on Saturday against Wisconsin’s Jordan Taylor.
And with that difficult road trip ahead, Hawkins said it’s been good to be home in Las Vegas for a few days, and to have a game that allowed the Rebels to “sharpen our skills” before the weekend.
“This game’s really a confidence-booster for a lot of us,” Hawkins said.
The other bench player Rice pointed to was Carlos Lopez, who scored 11 points in 15 minutes.
“(Lopez) has a low-post presence on the offensive end so we can play through him,” Rice said.
UNLV opened the game a little bit sloppy and found itself trailing six minutes into the game. Then back-to-back three-pointers from Hawkins and Stanback moved the Rebels in front, and in the last seven minutes they stepped on the gas, opening a 20-point halftime lead.
“We had some good possessions out there,” Stanback said. “We didn’t play as well as we could for the whole 40 minutes, but the majority of the game I feel like we played well.”
The Rebels forced 26 turnovers and converted them into 34 points. Their bench also outscored San Marcos’ by 40.
When the Cougars actually got a shot off, they made them at a solid clip. San Marcos shot 51 percent from the floor, led by Aaron Chamberlain’s 10-for-11 night.
UNLV can’t survive shooting performances like that from most teams, but a large lead — it never got closer than 15 in the second half — tends to change how you play. So that’s less of a concern than the high turnover rate is encouraging.
The Rebels went into Wednesday night knowing they would win. Hawkins went into the game knowing he would get important minutes.
Both had spectacular moments. But the most important part was that neither treated it any differently.
“It was the same-old get in there, take care of business and get out,” Hawkins said.
Mike Moser update
Moser, UNLV’s starting forward, is dealing with a sprained wrist indefinitely.
The sprain is on his right, shooting hand, and was re-aggravated at practice Tuesday.
At the end of practice, Moser worked on shooting left-handed, just in case the pain was too much. He didn’t end up going to his left on Wednesday, but he was visibly uncomfortable shooting jumpers with his right.
“Tonight, just didn’t feel good,” Moser said. “Didn’t really want to take a lot of jumpers. Just kind of tried to find other things to do.”
Moser took two long jump shots in the first two minutes against San Marcos, and then stuck to inside shooting the rest of the way. He finished 3-of-8 from the floor for six points.
At this point, it’s unclear the severity of the injury, or even how much it will affect his shot day-to-day.
“Even just after this game, it feels better,” Moser said. “We’ll see tomorrow.”
What is clear is that the injury doesn’t inhibit his rebounding. And Rice said he’s not expecting to have to baby his big man.
“No doubt that it’s bothering him and is affecting his shooting and his aggressiveness,” Rice said, “but he’s such a warrior that he’ll fight through it and be available to play.”