Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012 | 2 a.m.
- UNLV’s Bennett misses practice, may miss game because of lower-back issue
- Rebels basketball dips in the polls after Friday’s home loss to Oregon
- ‘Mad’ Rebels get back on track with an 82-70 victory against Iowa State
- No. 18 UNLV can’t overcome its mistakes in 83-79 loss to Oregon
- Analysis: Lessons need to be learned in mistake-filled loss against Oregon
- Competition jumps to another level this weekend for No. 18 UNLV
- All UNLV men's basketball coverage
UNLV knows what it wants to be: a fast-paced, defensive-minded team that creates turnovers and scores on the extra pass.
Now, getting there is a different story, one the 24th-ranked Rebels are clearly still trying to figure out. Last Friday’s loss to Oregon served as a wake-up call, they hope, to remind them that teams aren’t going to just bow down while they figure out exactly who they are.
UNLV (3-1) may know its destination, but figuring out the route best suited to get there is something even veterans like junior Mike Moser are trying to figure out. The Rebels’ next stop on that journey is at home Wednesday night at 7 against UC Irvine (3-4) on Time Warner Cable SportsNet.
Moser has had an up-and-down start to the year offensively. In games one and three he’s 3-for-12 with 12 points, while in games two and four he’s 11-for-24 with 34 points. It’s no coincidence that in both of those bounce-back games, Moser took and made UNLV’s first shot of the game.
Moser knows what making a shot or two can do for all-around game. That’s why he spends a lot of his time on offense these days trying to create opportunities for some of the Rebels’ new faces.
“He’s been extremely unselfish offensively,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said.
The thinking goes like this: If you’re scoring points, you’re more likely to be tuned into the game and focused on your other responsibilities, too. Some players tune out and play poor defense if they’re not getting what they want on offense.
Moser knows all about this tendency, which is why he’s working hard to get guys like freshman Anthony Bennett and sophomore Bryce Dejean-Jones enough looks on offense. That’s not saying those guys wouldn’t try hard if they didn’t shoot, Moser just doesn’t want it to get to that point.
“I know how bad it sucks running up and down the court not touching the ball, trying to play defense and it’s your responsibility to rebound as well,” Moser said. “I think I try more to help those guys out just for that reason.”
Moser’s averaging more than three assists per game, though his contributions to that end are more about small adjustments like drawing a defender away from whoever has the ball. His turnovers rise with his scoring output, an indication that at times his points may come at an overall detriment to the team.
The best-case scenario is probably for each of the Rebels’ playmakers to take turns creating shots and opportunities for one another. Like everything else, though, that’s going to take time.
The good news is that after indications to the contrary, UNLV should be able to continue that development at full strength Wednesday night. Bennett missed practice Monday with lower-back stiffness, the same thing that slowed him the past two seasons at Findlay Prep, but he was a full participant on Tuesday. Conversely, point guard Anthony Marshall went Monday but sat out Tuesday with some swelling in one of his knees. Both are expected to play against UC Irvine without being limited by minutes.
As a precaution, though, freshman guard Daquan Cook will suit up. Rice had planned to redshirt Cook this season, a move that left the Rebels without much depth, but he said Tuesday that the decision could be reversed. If Cook sees any game action his redshirt wouldn’t count this year, though he would have it available if needed in the future.
There’s a lot UNLV has to figure out yet. Rice challenged Dejean-Jones and freshman Savon Goodman to attack the rim for offensive rebounds, an area the Rebels struggled with against Iowa State. There are also things like the full-court pressure and zone defense that gave them fits against Oregon.
The list goes on and on, though it’s easier to start checking things off and getting everybody to buy in when the team’s leading scorer from last year is content spending a lot of his time getting shots for teammates. It’s all part of finding the route that takes them where they want to go.
“If that means I have to defer and play a more creating role,” Moser said, “then I’ll do that. Whatever it takes to win.”