REBELS BASKETBALL:

These five UNLV players could shape the rest of the season

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV’s Oscar Bellfield, Brice Massamba and Mike Moser celebrate a play against Central Arkansas during their game Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2011 at the Thomas & Mack Center. UNLV scored their most points since the 1990-91 season in beating Central Arkansas 124-75.

In the UNLV basketball team’s 16 wins during non-conference play, you can easily argue a different player was the star of each game.

Here is a small sample of the balance: Chace Stanback forced a second overtime in a victory at UC Santa Barbara with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer, Quintrell Thomas was a force on the inside in stealing the show at Illinois, Oscar Bellfield this month scored his 1,000th career point and Mike Moser has hauled in 17 or more rebounds in three separate games.

Moser is one of the nation’s leaders in rebounds and arguably the Rebels’ most important player. Stanback is making just less than 50-percent of his 3-pointers and had a stretch two weeks ago where he simply couldn’t miss. Both have been honored as the Mountain West Conference’s Player of the Week.

UNLV in fourth in the nation with 18.8 assists per game, they are winning by 24.5 points per game in 10 home contests and five players are scoring more than nine points per game.

The results have altered the program’s record book.

In the Rebels’ 124-75 win Dec. 28 against overwhelmed Central Arkansas, they posted the most points since the 1990-91 season. The 49-point margin of victory was the program’s largest since Feb. 7, 1991. In case you forgot, the Rebels had one of the best team’s in history of college basketball that year.

With the second half of the season starting Saturday with the league opener at San Diego State, here are five players to watch the remainder of the season. Like the first half, we could have easily picked several from the UNLV roster.

    • UNLV vs. Cal State-Bakersfield
      Photo by Sam Morris/Las Vegas Sun

      Sophomore forward Mike Moser

      The 6-foot-8 Moser is the most difficult player for opponents to guard, which makes him the Rebels’ most valuable player moving forward. He has the size to play in the paint and the range to stretch defenses out to the three-point line, where he’s shooting 34 percent. Moser’s averaging a double-double — 14.2 points and 11.1 rebounds — and he’s the team’s emotional lynchpin: When he’s fired up, the Rebels follow. On a team full of fast, freaky athletes, Moser stands above the rest.

    • UNLV vs. UCSB
      Photo by Sam Morris

      Senior wing Chace Stanback

      The team’s leading scorer, the 6-foot-8 Stanback is one game removed from a four-game stretch in which he shot 21-of-29 behind the three-point line. He’s got the size and athleticism to crash to the basket, but this season Stanback is making his biggest contributions on the outside, shooting 47 percent on a team-high 94 attempts. His first-half assertiveness forces defenses to decide whether to keep allowing him shots or to open holes on the court where others are ready to attack. With the game on the line, the Rebels want Stanback to take the shot.

    • Sam Morris: Best of 2011
      Photo by Sam Morris

      Sophomore post player Carlos Lopez

      In UNLV’s up-tempo system, playing the post can be a thankless job. Play defense, rebound and stay out of the way on offense. The 6-foot-11 is good at all three of those, but when opponents force the Rebels to slow down, he’s also their best interior option in half-court sets. He’s constantly adding to his offensive arsenal, from ball-fakes and up-and-under layups to mid-range jumpers, and he leads the team in blocks (19) while notching 7.8 points and 3.6 rebounds in less than 15 minutes per game. Mountain West Conference opponents will slow down the Rebels, giving Lopez a chance to shine.

    • UNLV vs. Cal State-Bakersfield
      Photo by Sam Morris/Las Vegas Sun

      Junior guard Justin Hawkins

      The first guard off the bench, Hawkins is the Rebels’ best defender, leading the team with just more than two steals per game while also averaging nearly 10 points. Starting guards Oscar Bellfield and Anthony Marshall are no slouches, but when an opponent starts getting hot, Hawkins is the ice you dump on him. His tight positioning forces uncomfortable players into mistakes that the Rebels quickly turn into transition points and victories. The Rebels are sure to meet an elite guard or two in the NCAA Tournament. Hawkins is their kryptonite.

    • UNLV vs. Central Arkansas
      Photo by Sam Morris

      Sophomore point guard Reggie Smith

      Barring injury, the only personnel-related question left for coach Dave Rice is whether to go with Smith or senior Kendall Wallace as his fourth guard. Wallace has improved his defense but his 3-point shooting has declined the past two seasons. Meanwhile, Smith, a transfer from Marquette, makes up for his lack of on-court experience with a mystery-box-like promise of athleticism. UNLV is very proud of its depth, and playing Smith for 15 minutes per game could be the final push that wears down opponents.

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

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    1. Let's not forget Marshall's heroics against Hawaii, and a few other teams! Excellent coverage Tay! Love it!

    2. Reggie Smith will be the deciding factor come SDSU...like Taylor said, that final push that wears down what little energy and adrenaline the opposing guard has. I just wish Wallace was more efficient and the sharpshooter he was before. Hey, u never know, coming out party at the pit like two years ago?!

    3. I saw on the 11pm Sportscenter last night that Doug Gottlieb picked Mike Moser as one of his top 5 players in the country. As with our #12 ranking, nice to see us getting some much-deserved respect on the national stage. Go Rebels!

    4. Marshall and Reggie are the final piece of the puzzle, with the dribble drive and shoot when teams play it slow, or distribute when the other teams crash down. I love the balanced play and tough defense we display. Keep on getting those turnovers and bench points and there is no limit to how high the ceiling is.

    5. I think Lopez is also an emotional leader, along with Moser. Lopez is doing great this year. Seems like he put on some muscle during the offseason, and he's a much more imposing presence in the paint. Stanback's shooting has been incredible...I hope he's able to keep that up. I'm a fan of Quintrell, and I think he's finally the guy to get physical (without committing any stupid fouls) when other teams try to push our guys around. I just don't think Massamba has that in him, but he brings other things to the table.

      I hope the coach keeps these guys grounded going into the in-conference games. Numbers next to team names can sometimes be a curse, but I think the embarrassing loss in the tournament last year is still fresh in their memories, and they won't let that happen again.

      I guess we'll find out this week. HUGE game for them. Go Rebels!

    6. I do think that Reggie Smith should begin to get more minutes and Kendall's should decrease. Kendall is just too one dimensional a player. However, mark my words, in one or two games this season Coach Rice will go to Kendall and he will save the day by catching fire. He has done it before and with the Rebels bound to face some zone, he will be a great asset. Great to have the problem of having too many players! Runnin' Rebels!!!