Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012 | 1 a.m.
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Las Vegas Sun sports reporters Taylor Bern and Case Keefer discuss UNLV's 75-58 victory over Boise State. They touch on what stood out in the win, as well as what the Rebels still need to improve.
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The number of college basketball players who have claimed to get their swagger back against Boise State could populate a small town. That is to say the Rebels’ feelings after Wednesday’s 75-58 victory aren’t exactly unique.
But they were no less needed.
Coming off its first two-game losing streak of the season, No. 21 UNLV (23-6, 7-4) came home and throttled the last-place Broncos (13-13, 3-8), moving within one game of New Mexico in the Mountain West standings.
To the outsider, there’s not much to take from this game.
If you thought the Rebels’ 1-3 mark coming into the game signaled a freefall, a rout against the bottom of the barrel wasn’t going to convince you otherwise. And if you thought that UNLV’s problems were only confined to the road, well that didn’t change either.
Inside that locker room, though, the Rebels needed to prove to themselves that they could still play with passion and dominate a game.
Swagger takes a lot of forms. For UNLV, it can be found in trapping ball screens and shot-clock violations. Turnovers and run outs.
“It started with our defense, as it usually does,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said.
The Rebels came out with a defensive fire rarely seen in the past few weeks. They forced three turnovers in the first four minutes.
Boise State opened the game 4-for-6 behind the three-point line and finished 7-of-30. No Broncos scored in double digits.
“It’s defending crazy and dictating what you want their offense to do,” junior guard Anthony Marshall said.
Marshall finished with 11 points and 10 rebounds, his fourth double-double this season and second in a row.
Senior small forward Chace Stanback found his shot, hitting four 3-pointers en route to a game-high 19 points, and senior center Brice Massamba was a consistent presence in the paint, scoring 14 points. Massamba also flashed some offensive swagger with a 17-foot jumper that swished through the net.
Junior guard Justin Hawkins connected on four 3-pointers, including a pair back to back in the second half that pushed the lead from 12 to 18 and effectively ended any lingering suspense.
Hawkins said he wanted to be ready to attack on Wednesday. Stanback said he wanted to live up to his teammates’, and his own, expectations.
They both accomplished their goals, yet that doesn’t really change anything about the status of this team. Had the Rebels struggled, it could have raised some significant red flags. As it is, Wednesday night went tip, swag, on to the next one.
The biggest positive for the Rebels came nearly 24 hours earlier when New Mexico lost at Colorado State, keeping the Mountain West race alive for a bit longer.
The Rebels are generally aware of what’s happening around the Mountain West, but they don’t want to focus on it too much.
“You can’t worry about what’s going on in the league, because once you start doing that you get away from the things that you want to do as a group,” said Marshall, who watched New Mexico’s loss Tuesday night.
The Lobos (22-5, 8-3) next play on Saturday at TCU, the site of UNLV’s colossal collapse last week. A similar fate isn’t likely for New Mexico, but the Rebels could help put some pressure on the Lobos by taking care of business earlier in the day at home against Air Force.
“Our focus is on us and what we have to do as a team,” Stanback said.
That will be another game that doesn’t offer much of a chance for UNLV to prove anything. The Falcons (13-12, 3-8) pulled off an upset against a depleted San Diego State squad last Wednesday, then turned around and dropped a home game to TCU.
UNLV will be expected to control the game and that’s probably what will happen. An easy victory won’t get the Rebels much credit, and any struggles will bring out the naysayers.
Of course, the Rebels don’t care about any of that. After the game, Rice said he challenged his players to continue to stay together as they had on the court Wednesday. To continue to improve and play defense with passion.
He challenged them to keep the swagger that they just took back.
“We were all disappointed last week, I know the town was disappointed, but there is so much still to play for,” Rice said. “It is all right there for us.”