UNLV basketball:

UNLV’s Thomas comes up big against Illinois

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV forward Quintrell Thomas drives to the basket against Illinois Saturday, Dec. 17, 2011 at the United Center in Chicago. Thomas had 13 points in the Rebels 64-48 defeat of 19th ranked Illinois.

UNLV beats Illinois

KSNV coverage of UNLV men's basketball team defeating Illinois in Chicago, Dec. 17, 2011.

UNLV defeats No. 19 Illinois 64-48

UNLV guard Justin Hawkins defends Illinois guard Sam Maniscalco during their game Saturday, Dec. 17, 2011 at the United Center in Chicago. The Rebels beat the 19th-ranked Illini 64-48. Launch slideshow »

CHICAGO — Quintrell Thomas doesn’t know what each game will bring.

In UNLV’s biggest victories this season — against North Carolina and UC Santa Barbara — he had scored three points in 13 total minutes.

At Wichita State he played just nine minutes, and last week at Wisconsin, Thomas, a junior center, never got off the bench.

But then there are games like UNLV’s 64-48 victory against No. 19 Illinois on Saturday at the United Center.

Thomas wasn’t a big part of the game plan, but once he got on the court, he forced his way into the rotation for the rest of the day.

“My whole thing is that you just control the things you can,” Thomas said. "Whenever the opportunity arises, then I have to deliver.”

Thomas delivered a season-high 13 points, seven rebounds, two blocks and two steals in 19 minutes. Plus he played a key role in shutting down Illinois center Meyers Leonard.

“Oh my goodness, that was huge for us,” said forward Mike Moser, who led the team with 17 points and 11 rebounds. “He did just about everything for us for a long stretch of time.”

Thomas’ first key stretch started with just more than seven minutes remaining in the first half and the game tied. At that point, UNLV’s other frontcourt players had already established their dominance.

Moser, Brice Massamba and Carlos Lopez combined to score the first 15 points for UNLV. A Rebel guard didn’t score until more than 10 minutes had elapsed.

And on defense, the Rebels’ double-teams against Illinois big men Leonard and Tyler Griffey were working to perfection.

“We knew we were taking a chance by doubling Leonard and Griffey to start the game, and yet we didn’t want Leonard to get going early,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said. “But the scary thing about that was how capable they are from (three-point range).”

Leonard picked up three early assists passing out of the pressure, but then Illinois went cold from long distance, finishing the game 7-of-25 behind the three-point line and shooting 25 percent overall.

How much credit for that goes to UNLV’s defense or to Illinois just missing shots is debatable, but it at least started with the Rebels forcing the Illini into those looks in lieu of anything inside.

“(Credit) goes a lot to our coaching staff,” Moser said. “Our scouting this week was just incredible. We knew just about everything they were about to do, we were able to switch about every move they had. Just couldn’t do much against us.”

Leonard, who’s listed at 7-foot-1 and 245 pounds, finished with seven points and six rebounds.

“He’s of course a great player, but he’s tall and long,” Thomas said. “Me and Brice, for example, we’re both close to 250 (pounds), so our center of gravity is lower so we’re able to push him off the block a lot more than I’m guessing he’s used to.”

Thomas’ first basket was a short jumper that put UNLV up 19-17. Illinois’ D.J. Richardson, who played with Lopez at Findlay Prep, answered with a 3-pointer that lifted the Illini back into the lead.

But on the next possession, there was Thomas again, countering with another short-range jumper that put the Rebels back up 21-20. UNLV led the rest of the game.

“It definitely feels good just finally showing some resemblance of how I used to play,” Thomas said.

Thomas scored a career-high 19 points at New Mexico last February. Since then, he’s been unable to find any consistency, or even consistent court time.

That’s what makes this outbreak surprising to outsiders. Inside the program, though, it doesn’t come as a shock.

“No, because we always know he has it in him,” Moser said. “We all have a lot of faith in each other, and when somebody gets cookin’, we make sure we give them the ball. He definitely was cookin’.”

Rice said this game wasn’t so much about getting revenge for last year’s NCAA Tournament loss as it was getting over the loss last week at Wisconsin. The team was “frustrated” by its effort in that game. So imagine how frustrating it had to be watching that and not getting a chance to help, as Thomas did.

His efforts Saturday likely ensured that he won’t see a “0” under his minutes-played column anymore.

Thomas said he hasn’t been upset this season because the team is doing well, but it obviously is better to be a key part of the victory than mostly a spectator — especially an important win like this one.

UNLV now has two “neutral” victories against name brand, power programs, furthering the Rebels' presence on a national level.

“You get the feeling around the country that everybody wants to love us,” Thomas said, “but we’ve got to give them a reason to.”

Similarly, you get the feeling that the coaching staff wants to help Thomas and give him important minutes.

He just gave them a reason to.

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  1. Good for Q. I have not been a big fan, but he came to play. Showed great energy and effort (which is all you can ask for- shots will not drop every night). If he keeps it up he has EARNED more PT. Now watching Stanback- either he was ill or he was stoned. The guy looked like he didn't give a hoot the whole game- zero effort. And I don't get that- there is NO excuse for a lack of effort. I just hope we find out he was playing with the flu or something...

  2. Great game Rebels! Now don't get complacent and continue playing well!

  3. Couldn't have happened to a nicer guy..well done Q.T....always be ready depth definitely showing and more to come with Reg on the way.
    Great win fellas!

  4. Big time win for the rebs. Glad to see thomas get going. Our bigs play up to this point has probably been most consistent on the team. Credit to the coaching staff. Hope we can keep this momentum going especially with reggie coming on board.

  5. Rose - Could not agree with you more on Chace. 2 more points than a dead man. Chace can be so good and at times he completely disappears. Has been that way all three years here. Good thing we have some other guys able to step up. We will need Chace to play much more consistent the rest of the way. Excited to see Reggie Smith in action. Big game against a good Cal team coming up. Runnin' Rebels!

  6. Don't look now but the three bigs (Thomas, Lopez, and Massamba) went 11 for 14 shooting (78.6%). Our center position was dominating while the gaurds struggled offensively. Throw in that Moser was 6 for 11 and we see something that fans have wanted for a long time, a very good front court. Go Rebels!

  7. Thomas had an outstanding game. Since the beginning of the season, I have really seen some great improvement, especially with the bigs. It's visible every game that they are getting better. There were some open shots we got lucky didnt go down, but overall, our defense was pretty suffocating. TONS of blocks too, I couldn't believe the Marshall and Bellfield blocks in that game. Gazelles I tell ya.

  8. Nice to see free throws at:
    17-20 (.850)

  9. I've always thought Thomas was our best big. Same thing happened last year. He didn't get minutes for the first part of the season, and then Kruger realized Thomas was the best of the three bigs and got him more minutes. Massamba must be really good in the offseason to get the starting position, but I think Thomas is objectively better at this point and should be getting the minutes.

  10. Was Chase Sick????/ Seems like they only ran a couple of plays for him.