Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Friday, Feb. 24, 2012 | 2:15 p.m.
- Rebels reclaim their swagger in a dominating 75-58 victory against Boise State
- UNLV Notes: Big man trio continues to impress Rebels coach Dave Rice
- Quintrell Thomas’ dunk reaches No. 2 on Sportscenter’s Top Plays for Wednesday
- 2011-12 UNLV Men's Basketball Schedule
- All UNLV Men's Basketball Coverage
Carlos Lopez watched the entire second half of UNLV’s 75-58 victory against Boise State from his increasingly familiar spot on the bench Wednesday night. The sophomore forward from Findlay Prep is happy the Rebels are winning — “That’s the most important thing,” he said. But lately he’s had a lot of time to sit there and think about what this season could have been for him personally if not for a few factors that are mostly out of his control.
“It’s all wrong this year,” Lopez said. “I probably just woke up on the wrong side of the bed the first day.”
Lopez goes into No. 21 UNLV’s (23-6, 7-4) Saturday afternoon game against Air Force (13-12, 3-8), which is on NBC Sports Network at 1, without any idea how much he’ll play. His 12 minutes at New Mexico were book-ended by two-minute outings against TCU and Boise State.
UNLV coach Dave Rice said he came into the season expecting Lopez to get more minutes at power forward. But Lopez suffered an ankle injury before the season and missed the first game, in which sophomore forward Mike Moser posted 16 points and 20 rebounds.
That performance, and subsequent double-doubles, moved Lopez mostly into a three-man center rotation with senior Brice Massamba and junior Quintrell Thomas. With three guys all vying for the same minutes, nobody really knows how much they’re going to play on a given night.
All three players have seen their minutes swing up and down because of performance, injuries, fouls and matchups. But as the regular season comes to a close, it’s Massamba, the starter, and Thomas who have been getting the bulk of the work.
Since making his lone start of the season in place of an injured Massamba on Jan. 5, Lopez has averaged eight minutes over nine games. That stretch also covers two DNPs because of his second ankle injury, this one suffered at Boise State on Jan. 25, and missed practices because of an illness.
In the past four games, he’s averaging a little more than five minutes per game and in the past month he’s scored more than two points just once. It’s been a difficult adjustment for the guy who was often the first Rebel off the bench in the non-conference season.
“It’s not the easiest thing,” Lopez said, “but it’s all about staying positive.”
Lopez said he’s relied on his teammates, asking them for support. And he also can find inspiration in the UNLV annals.
Current Miami Heat forward Joel Anthony averaged less than two points as a junior. Current Indiana Pacers forward Louis Amundson had to take a medical redshirt before his first sophomore year, then battled injuries and illness through a lackluster 2003-04 season.
Both of them persevered and made themselves key pieces of Rebels teams before transitioning to the NBA.
Lopez knows their stories. And he certainly knows about Massamba, another Findlay Prep grad, who has made himself invaluable in Rice’s eyes and is averaging 11.3 points over the past four games. Progress takes a lot of work and a bit of luck.
This year, Lopez is 1-for-2.
The opportunities for him to contribute this season are “running out,” Lopez said. You never know what each game will require, but as the season comes to a close, rotations tend to tighten up, not go the other way.
If that’s the case, Lopez won’t like it. But he’ll continue to do his part as a team player.
“I don’t want guys sitting on the bench happy that they’re not playing,” Rice said. “But at the same time, he’s been extremely positive in the locker room, he’s been extremely positive about cheering for his teammates and bringing it every day in practice when he’s healthy.”