Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Saturday, Jan. 21, 2012 | 9:13 p.m.
Talk about a great day of basketball in Southern Nevada. If you were like me, you camped out all day on the UNLV campus for the festivities.
Take time to catch your breath. It was an awesome day — especially the final game for the supporters of the scarlet and gray.
The UNLV basketball team ran visiting New Mexico out of the Thomas & Mack Center Saturday night, turning up the pace of the game in the second half and playing stellar defense in a n 80-63 victory. The Rebels improved to 14-0 at home, taking advantage of yet another packed house of fans to create a tough atmosphere for New Mexico. Let’s go out on a limb and say the Rebels won’t lose at home — conference tournament included — this year.
Earlier in the day, Findlay Prep beat Bishop Gorman for the fourth consecutive season in front of a sold-out crowd. The game was the talk of the town all week, with a long line of notables from the community showing up to show their support.
How many times do 2,500 people attend a high school game in Las Vegas?
Here’s a look at some highlights from the UNLV win:
The Big 3 bend, but don’t break: At one point in the first half, the Rebels’ Big 3 of post players — Brice Massamba, Quintrell Thomas and Carlos Lopez — each had two fouls and were partially to blame for New Mexico grabbing 13 first-half offensive rebounds. Last year, when the group was inconsistent virtually every game, this type of performance would have spelled disaster and likely resulted in the Rebels losing. That’s far from the case this year. Give credit to the group for piecing it together. Lopez had nine points in the first half despite picking up three fouls and Massamba showed his toughness early in the second half by taking an elbow to the chin. Even though New Mexico’s Drew Gordon, arguably the best player in the Mountain West Conference, proved to be a tough match-up all night, UNLV’s post players earned their stripes by contributing to the win.
Good defense leads to easy points: The Rebels forced 21 turnovers and scored 27 fast-break points, imposing their will with an active style of play on the defensive end to create some easy scoring chances. In comparison, New Mexico had no fast-break points. UNLV’s run-and-gun offensive style always grabs the notoriety, but those flashy baskets wouldn’t be possible without solid defense. Anthony Marshall and Oscar Bellfield combine to play the best on-ball defense of any two guards in the league. They are downright suffocating.
MWC road games won’t be easy : Winning on the road in the Mountain West Conference is a struggle for all teams regardless of ranking or talent level, making navigating through next week’s schedule easier said than done for the Rebels. Remember three years ago when UNLV was upset at TCU? UNLV has two tough road games next week — Wednesday at Boise State and next Saturday at Air Force — and can’t afford to slip up against an inferior opponent. After all, each of UNLV’s three defeats has come away from Las Vegas. I predicted earlier in the season that UNLV would be dealt an upset at an unlikely venue. Air Force and Boise State are more than capable of doing just that.
UNLV bench comes up big : UNLV’s bench accounted for 28 points, outscoring New Mexico’s bench by 19. Carlos Lopez led the way with a game-high 15 points and Justin Hawkins had 10. The depth UNLV has from its reserves makes the Rebels dangerous moving forward. Against New Mexico, the level of play didn’t drop when the second team was in the game. Having reliable bodies at coach Dave Rice's disposal will become a big-time asset come tournament time in March when games are played in consecutive days.