Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012 | 10:45 p.m.
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The stats looked good, Anthony Bennett looked great and with another road game right on the horizon, No. 20 UNLV (8-1) will happily take this somewhat sloppy 91-44 victory and move on to the next one.
The final margin was predictably lopsided. La Verne (1-5), a Division III school from the Los Angeles area, has a roster full of players who would struggle to find minutes at the majority of Mountain West schools. The Rebels shot 65.5 percent from the field in the second half, the result mostly of UNLV wearing down the Leopards and creating a lot of turnovers that turned into easy baskets.
“Those buckets on the road and in league games, we’re going to need all of those,” said freshman Savon Goodman, who tallied 13 points and nine rebounds.
Bennett waltzed to new career highs in points (27) and rebounds (14) while registering more than a couple of dunks and shooting 7-of-9 at the free-throw line. He was the guy who put together the most complete game and could have easily registered even more had he played more than 24 minutes.
“It’s not a surprise anymore,” freshman Katin Reinhardt said of Bennett, who also had three blocks.
UNLV had plenty of cold stretches, though the only one that causes much concern is the team’s constant nemesis: the first minutes of the second half. In the first four minutes after going into the break with a 17-point lead, the Rebels committed three turnovers and got outscored by one.
The rest of the second half easily wiped that stretch away, but the fact that it’s something the Rebels constantly emphasize yet still struggle with is a concern.
“You can’t look away from it,” Goodman said. “You’re only going further in the season, playing better teams and trying to make the tournament. That’s a thing we have to correct.”
Reinhardt hit his first two 3-pointers and finished with 14 points. Goodman’s roommate, freshman Daquan Cook, made some good plays in his collegiate debut, finishing with four points, three assists, one steal and three fouls in 17 minutes.
Cook first checked in for starting point guard Anthony Marshall about nine minutes into the game and Cook assisted a Quintrell Thomas dunk on his first possession. After that it was a mixed bag filled with equal parts good-looking drives to the basket and silly hand-check fouls on defense. Nobody expected perfection from the undersized guard from Baltimore this quick, so overall there was enough reason to be optimistic about Cook’s immediate future.
“He’ll be a guy that we will utilize the rest of the year,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said.
Bennett and Goodman combined to equal La Verne’s rebounding total (23), pacing UNLV to a 49-23 advantage in that category. As expected, the Leopards simply couldn’t handle the Rebels inside or out, where UNLV hit 7-of-15 3-point attempts. Those long shots were made easier by the Rebels’ dominance inside, which forced La Verne to collapse.
“(Bennett) can find the open man too,” Reinhardt said. “He knows when to score and when to pass the ball.”
Subtract some individual plays that left Leopard shooters wide open, the Rebels played pretty good defense. La Verne, playing from behind the entire game, hit just 4-of-20 3-point attempts and overall shot 31.4 percent from the field. UNLV is always talking about consistency, and for the most part the defense delivered.
Overall this game served its purpose. Some of the Rebels finished their first semester in the hours leading up to the game, and forced into the Orleans Arena by the National Finals Rodeo at the Thomas & Mack Center, the team made due in front of 5,069 fans.
This was a get in, stay healthy and get out type of situation. With Cook now in the fold, the Rebels add yet another piece in Monday’s game with sophomore forward Khem Birch becoming eligible.
There are bigger questions to answer and better opponents than La Verne lurking in the days and weeks ahead. On Thursday the Rebels looked really good at times, put together a few highlights and no one got seriously hurt. In the end that’s all they could ask for.