UNLV basketball:

Brice Massamba’s interior play may be crucial for UNLV against Air Force

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV teammates Brice Massamba and Anthony Marshall celebrate a play against TCU during their Mountain West Conference game Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2012 at the Thomas & Mack Center. UNLV won the game 101-78.

Rebels hit the road to play Air Force

KSNV coverage of UNLV Rebels getting ready to play Air Force, Jan. 27, 2012.

DENVER — With a starting lineup featuring four players who can shoot from the perimeter, it's understandable why the UNLV basketball team occasionally ignores the interior. Yet that’s exactly what gets the Rebels into trouble on the road.

In Wednesday’s 77-72 overtime victory at Boise State, No. 12 UNLV (19-3, 3-1) fell in love with the deep shot, attempting a season-high 34 3-pointers while shooting a season-low 34.8 percent from the field.

Coach Dave Rice said he doesn’t care so much about the total number of treys his team attempts in a game, as long as they’re shots that take advantage of the defense. But Wednesday’s total was far too high given the circumstances, and Saturday’s 6 p.m. game at Air Force (11-7, 1-3) will be similar.

That’s why Rice said it would be a big opportunity for the offense to run through senior center Brice Massamba.

“It’s very important for us to do that on the road, to have a guy like Brice that we can trust,” Rice said.

At Boise State, the Rebels made their first three attempts behind the three-point line. That start triggered an onslaught of jumpers that disrupted the offense and, as soon as they stopped falling, allowed the Broncos to rally and take the lead in the second half.

“I hit my first 3 and was feeling it a little bit and took some forced shots after that,” junior guard Anthony Marshall said. "To eliminate that, we’ve got to get some things going to the rim early. We settled for a lot of long shots.”

Sophomore forward Carlos Lopez sprained his ankle midway through the second half against the Broncos and he’s questionable this weekend. That would mean more time for Massamba and junior forward Quintrell Thomas.

Both players have the ability to score in the double digits, but neither needs to make shots in order to be effective offensive weapons.

On UNLV’s final possesion in regulation at Boise State, the play started with an entry pass to Massamba, who then kicked it back to senior small forward Chace Stanback for the potential go-ahead shot with about 40 seconds left.

Stanback missed, but it was a good, open look at the basket that was set up by playing inside out. That’s the type of play that Rice would like to see executed more often in the first halves of games.

“We did a pretty good job in the second half against San Diego State and the second half at Boise of throwing the ball inside to our post players,” Rice said, “and we’ve made more of a concerted effort with that.”

Like Boise State, Air Force’s perimeter shooting is a focus for UNLV’s defense. Unlike the Broncos, who just joined the Mountain West, the Falcons are a familiar foe. That takes away the surprise, but it doesn’t make the task any easier.

“We know to expect the back doors, the flares and the 3-point shooting,” Marshall said. “In order to get a win against Air Force, it takes a disciplined team. They spend like 30 seconds running their offense and then if they miss, they could spend another 30 seconds running their offense, so you could spend almost a minute playing defense.”

And much like several of UNLV’s non-conference opponents, the Falcons want to slow down the game and limit possessions.

“Their style of play is unique for our league,” Rice said.

Marshall said the Rebels would have to find more conservative ways to initiate the offense, because the Falcons’ back-door cuts make opponents pay for gambling on steals.

That may mean relying on more half-court sets instead of their preferred fast breaks. In that case, Rice is confident that Massamba and the other bigs are up to the task.

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

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  1. UNLV's final regular-season possession at Boise? Did you mean final possesion in regulation? Either way, I believe it is important to work the ball into the post. All three guys have the ability to score, or maybe more importantly, pass. Let's go Rebs.

  2. Thanks, good catch Big John. It's fixed now and I'll credit you with the assist. - Sam Morris