Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2012 | 6 p.m.
The first play could have been chalked up to surprise.
New Mexico’s Tony Snell, a player who doesn’t usually try to score off the dribble, put the ball on the court and breezed past UNLV’s Chace Stanback, through an open lane and soared in for a dunk that rocked The Pit in the first half of the Lobos’ 65-45 victory Saturday.
When Snell did it again in the second half, this time along the baseline, the conversation changed. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on knee.
“Chace is a very smart, very technically sound defender who right now is affected by the health of his knee,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said.
That’s something the 21st-ranked Rebels (22-6, 6-4) will have to monitor the rest of the season, starting with Wednesday night’s home game at 7:15 against Boise State (13-12, 3-7), which will air on CBS College Sports.
Stanback said the pain in his right knee goes back a year or two and it’s the result of the usual wear and tear that comes with a basketball life.
This offseason he had the choice of getting a knee arthroscopy, during which two small incisions are made and a fiberoptic camera is inserted into the knee cavity to assess damage. It’s a relatively common procedure for athletes, but it doesn’t provide guaranteed results. Sometimes daily rehabilitation can be just as, if not more, effective.
After weighing the options, Stanback and UNLV’s medical team opted for the latter. Stanback and trainer Dave Tomchek work on it with ice, time in the whirlpool and an electronic stimulation machine, which uses low-voltage pulses to help increase the knee’s range of motion. Despite all of that, he hasn’t missed any time because of the injury.
“Ultimately, I still have to do what I have to do. I still have to play better,” Stanback said. “I don’t use my knee as an excuse.”
It’s not an excuse; it’s an explanation for why he is admittedly “a step slower than I was to start the season.”
“There’s no doubt he’s affected,” Rice said. “He’s very tough. I’ve tried to get him to take possessions off in practice, or even parts of practice off, and he just doesn’t want to. He’s such a good team guy that he wants to practice every day.”
Rice said if the staff feels like less practice time down the stretch will benefit Stanback then they’ll force him to sit because they know how important he is to the team’s success.
In the last six games, including two of UNLV’s three losses, Stanback has scored five points or less. Add that to his defensive deficiency and it’s easy to see why getting the senior small forward back on track is a top priority.
“If he’s not going, it’s tough for us to get going,” sophomore forward Mike Moser said. “As he goes, we go.”
You don’t have to wait long to find out which way Stanback is going, either.
In 26 starts this season, Stanback has made a shot in the first five minutes in 13 games. In those contests, he’s shooting 57 percent from the field and 56.1 percent behind the 3-point line. When he doesn’t hit a shot in that opening stretch, Stanback is shooting 32.5 percent overall and 28.6 percent behind the line.
For comparison’s sake, junior guard Anthony Marshall is shooting 50 percent from the field in the 10 games he has hit a shot in the first five minutes, and 40 percent in the 17 that he hasn’t.
“That’s why you’ll see that, if not the very first play call of the game, very early in the game we’re calling something to get (Stanback) a shot,” Rice said. “We make a concerted effort to try to get him a good look to start the game.”
Playing three of their last four regular season games at home will be a big help for the Rebels and, specifically, Stanback. His shooting numbers are significantly better in Las Vegas and less travel means fewer cramped airplane and bus rides.
UNLV needs Stanback healthy and hitting shots early. That’s going to take careful planning the rest of the way.
“It’s important for us to make sure we manage his knee,” Rice said, “and try to get as much out of him as we can.”