Carlos Lopez asserts himself as a force in Rebels stomping of New Mexico

Lopez ties a career-high with 14 points, continually gets to the free-throw line

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV forward Carlos Lopez strips the ball from New Mexico forward Cameron Bairstow during their Mountain West Conference game Saturday, Jan. 21, 2012 at the Thomas & Mack Center. UNLV won the game 80-63.

UNLV vs. New Mexico - Jan. 21, 2012

UNLV's Justin Hawkins celebrates a three-point shot against New Mexico during their Mountain West Conference game Saturday, Jan. 21, 2012 at the Thomas & Mack Center. Launch slideshow »

Asked what he thought of Carlos Lopez’s eccentric new hairstyle Saturday night, UNLV coach Dave Rice feigned ignorance.

“I didn’t notice,” Rice said. “Someone had a mohawk?”

Then Rice grinned. The first-year coach pulled off everything else he tried in UNLV’s 80-63 drubbing of New Mexico, but this little white lie wasn’t going to slip through.

Lopez, a sophomore center, was impossible to ignore against the Lobos, and for more than the mohawk and swirls shaved into the side of his head. He had arguably his best game of the season, tying a career-high with 14 points in only 14 minutes of action.

“The energy Carlos Lopez brought off of the bench was fantastic tonight,” Rice said. “He was aggressive. Our guys found him. We’ve made a real emphasis on trying to throw the ball into the post all year long.”

Lopez hadn’t scored in double digits since a 13-point performance against California nearly a month ago. It had been even longer since he put together a game as well-rounded as he did Saturday.

Although Lopez notched only three rebounds, he stood his ground inside and helped UNLV hold New Mexico to only 14 points in the paint.

“I’m just trying to help out with whatever I could do,” Lopez said. “Coming off of the bench, I try to bring energy and whatever happens, happens.”

Lopez asserted himself from the minute Rice put him in the game. In one of his first offensive possessions, the Lobos collapsed on a penetrating Anthony Marshall.

It left the 6-foot-11 Lopez open for a short jump shot that he slid through to tie the game at 13. UNLV slightly trailed for most of the first half, but Lopez starred in a late 14-5 run to give it a halftime lead.

Lopez had a block, dunk and two free throws during the mini-surge.

“Carlos scored in so many ways,” junior forward Mike Moser said. “I don’t know how many times he got to the free-throw line tonight, but it took the pressure off of everyone.”

Lopez took 14 of the Rebels' 19 free-throw attempts, converting on eight of his tries. He got to the line five times in the second half. Oddly enough, all five trips played out the exact same way, with Lopez sinking the first shot before missing the second.

To Rice, it was impressive enough that Lopez got to the line that frequently. It showed that the Findlay Prep graduate was playing with the aggression that he sometimes lacks.

A ferocious presence in the post is something Rice hopes to have available on a consistent basis. And it’s something Lopez thinks he’s ready to provide.

“If it’s me trying to score, get rebounds or blocking shots, I’m just trying to do my best when I come off of the bench,” Lopez said. “It’s tough to have three big guys sharing the same minutes. It’s very tough for us to get going, but when one of us has a big game, it’s going to help the team in a huge way.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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  1. Carlos Lopez played a great game. I always enjoy watching him play. I wish he would play more minutes. He posses excellent basketball skills and brings great enthusiasm to the team. One thing though, that new hairdo just doesn't work for you or anyone else for that matter. Definitely a fashion statement don't. Make your statement with your basketball skills. Please, please do not do that again... por favor, Dios mio... ewwww

  2. Way to go Lopez!

  3. HoosierBoy, I like his individuality, no cookie cutter there! You are right on point about his enthusiasm though, he often gets the crowd on their feet. The whole team looks like they are having a great time on the court, which shows up in their unselfish play, which shows up as more points, which shows up as more wins, which shows up as more fun........

  4. Nice game, Lopez! Keep bringing the energy and the rest will follow. And do whatever you want with your haircut. It's just hair!