Rebels basketball:

Stellar first half buoys No. 24 UNLV as it holds off Hawaii 77-63 at home

The Rebels hold the Warriors to 1-for-18 behind the three-point line and move to 5-1 despite poor offense in the second half

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV guard Katin Reinhardt hits the ground while watching his three-point shot go in late in their game against Hawaii Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012 at the Thomas & Mack. UNLV won 77-63

UNLV vs. Hawaii 2012

UNLV guard Justin Hawkins shoves Hawaii guard Jace Tavita out of his face while Hawaii center Vander Joaquim reacts to being called for a technical foul during their game Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012 at the Thomas & Mack. Hawkins also received a technical foul for the altercation with Joaquim. UNLV won 77-63 Launch slideshow »

If you want a glimpse of how good UNLV’s offense can be this season, look at the first half of Saturday’s 77-63 victory against Hawaii (4-2). If you believe the 24th-ranked Rebels (5-1) are overhyped or overrated, look at the second half of the same game. And if you think this is a talented team still figuring out how to play together while going against teams that have some film to study on how to stop them, you have 40 minutes that exemplify both just how close the Rebels are and how far they have yet to go.

“We’re a work in progress,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said. “I know people are getting tired of hearing it, but we only have six games under our belt and the fact is we’re seeing flashes of what we can be and how we can share the ball.”

The first 20 minutes in the Thomas & Mack Center were as good as this team has played offensively all year and better than most halves they put together the entire 2011-12 season. The Rebels were scoring in the paint (22 points), off of turnovers (19), on fast breaks (12) and off the bench (25), all while shooting nearly 59 percent from the field. They forced 12 turnovers and made 12 assists. It all added up to a 49-27 halftime lead.

It’s only natural the Rebels would regress a bit in the second half, because teams don’t usually shoot above 70 percent behind the arc for an entire game. If UNLV is to be a great team, though, the drop-off can’t be nearly this severe. Hawaii changed its zone defense from an aggressive, attacking front to a “laid-back zone” as UNLV freshman Savon Goodman called it.

“(When) they’re playing soft and gimmick defenses … we’ve got to do a better job moving the ball,” Rice said.

Poor starts to the second half were a chronic problem last season and this one was of the same vein. Hawaii started with a quick layup and by the 10-minute mark the deficit was down to 10. At the 6-minute mark the Warriors were down eight largely because the Rebels had scored only 12 second-half points by that point.

Christian Standhardinger scored a game-high 27 points for Hawaii, most of them in the second half and many after he beat a Rebels defender one-on-one. Overall UNLV’s defense was solid the whole game, though, something that helped keep the Rebels ahead.

It was Joaquim Vander’s free throws that cut the margin to eight, a trip he earned on UNLV junior Mike Moser's fourth foul. Moser, who finished with 10 points, five rebounds and three blocks, never reentered the game, a decision that made sense until the game was still within single digits in the final two minutes.

Rice cleared that up after the game, stating team trainer Dave Tomchek had requested Moser only reenter the game if absolutely necessary. Moser’s groin injury from before the season had flared up and neither Tomchek, Rice nor anyone else on the UNLV bench wanted to risk Moser’s health.

Moser has been working on the injury the entire season, leaving the practice court and heading straight for an ice bath. This may linger with Moser for the season, but it would be surprising if it forced him to miss an entire game, particularly next week, when UNLV is headed on its first road trip Tuesday for Moser’s homecoming game against Portland at 8 p.m. on ESPNU. Rice would probably have to fight Moser to keep him on the bench for that game considering Moser expects about 130 family and friends to attend.

UNLV finally woke up on offense on the possession after Moser took a seat. Senior guard Anthony Marshall passed to the corner for freshman Katin Reinhardt, who continued to build his reputation as a clutch shot maker by drilling the 3. After the Warriors hit one free throw, Reinhardt came back and this time got the assist on a 3-pointer, dishing it to Justin Hawkins in the opposite corner.

“As a team we kind of laid back and let them punch is in the second half,” Goodman said. “But we stayed together.”

Hawaii didn’t quit at that point but the mini-run injected enough life into the Rebels that they were able to hold on. Reinhardt and fellow freshman Anthony Bennett scored UNLV’s final eight points, including Reinhardt’s assist to Bennett for an emphatic dunk with 40 seconds left.

Bennett finished with a team-high 16 points and eight rebounds. Reinhardt scored 10 on just four shots and dished out seven assists, one short of Marshall, who also had five points, five rebounds and six turnovers.

As a group, the Rebels' bench had arguably its best game of the season, starting with Goodman’s 13 points and seven rebounds. Quintrell Thomas had nine points and five rebounds in 17 minutes and Hawkins finished with three assists to go with eight points, though he needed 11 shots to get there.

That production was needed because of Moser’s injury and Rice’s decision to leave starter Bryce Dejean-Jones on the bench for most of the second half. Dejean-Jones committed his third foul just more than one minute into the second half. He was immediately subbed out for Goodman and never came back, playing just eight minutes.

Rice said Dejean-Jones will still start Tuesday’s game. The decision seemed like a message that if the players aren’t doing what the coaches ask, there’s someone on the bench who will.

UNLV may spend the next week, month or even the whole year searching for a stretch as good as that first half. The important thing during that search is that the Rebels avoid a letdown as significant as the second half.

In between those two exists a balance that will be hard to beat. UNLV hopes with more time it can get there.

Taylor Bern can be reached at 948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Taylor on Twitter at twitter.com/taylorbern.

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