Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012 | 11:30 p.m.
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When UNLV split into two teams for its scrimmage, the marquee event of Thursday night’s Scarlet/Gray Showcase at the Thomas & Mack Center, it was easy to believe these could be two separate nuclei of two different programs.
Katin Reinhardt led Scarlet with Khem Birch on the inside, Carlos Lopez-Sosa gathering the team at every break and Savon Goodman doing everything but successfully dunk on Mike Moser. The freshman took it at Moser twice, first drawing a foul and then getting blocked, but if there had been time Goodman would have taken it to the rim again.
Neither side was backing down, though Anthony Bennett’s game-leading 15 points proved too much for Scarlet to overcome in Gray’s 39-37 victory. The outcome hardly matters, of course, because UNLV coach Dave Rice doesn’t have to pick between them. He gets all those players, plus senior Anthony Marshall, who sat out with a minor wrist injury, and junior Bryce Dejean-Jones, who’s expected back around the start of the season.
It’s been noted many times before, but seeing all that talent running around the Mack was further proof to the fans who filled most of the lower bowl that the expectations of this team are warranted.
“There’s no doubt we have a good basketball team,” Rice said. “We’re trying to be a great basketball team.”
Thursday was mostly about celebrating. Celebrating last year’s success and this year’s roster full of potential. Celebrating the past with the legends game featuring J.R. Rider and a standing ovation for former coach Jerry Tarkanian, who was seated in his usual spot behind the basket in a black argyle sweater. These events are always good for the fan base because in October the team is undefeated and everything, especially this year, feels possible.
But there was also work to be done. The whole event came to sort of a screeching halt midway through the first of two 10-minute halves in the Scarlet vs. Gray scrimmage. The tempo and execution at that point was neither fast nor crisp and Rice called a timeout, bringing both teams together in a huddle to get them to refocus. The fact this doesn’t go in a record book didn’t matter, it was still a game in front of fans on the Rebels’ home court and Rice didn’t want to waste the opportunity.
From there the pace picked up and highlights included Justin Hawkins crashing into the scorer’s table to save a ball and Goodman diving after a loose ball in the corner. There was offense, too — Bennett hit two 3-pointers plus a nice dunk while Scarlet’s Lopez-Sosa and Quintrell Thomas combined for 21 points — but it’s more notable that guys are throwing their bodies around to win an exhibition game in the middle of October.
How Rice puts together these stellar pieces into a rotation is going to dominate the early-season storylines. Before Birch becomes eligible in December it will be a battle down low between Lopez-Sosa and Thomas, with only one of them likely to get many minutes by January. And while Goodman showed he can try take over on offense, he said he knows that working his way onto the court is going to be more about those hustle plays he was so good at in Canada and on Thursday.
“If I can be the star player for defense that helps everybody,” Goodman said.
When you remember that Goodman was essentially the cherry on top of an already stellar recruiting class it puts UNLV’s excess of riches into perspective. He’s arguably good enough to start at all but one other Mountain West roster and he could end up being a huge piece to the Rebels’ puzzle. Or, Rice may need him only in spot duty this year. The range of possibilities for a guy like him is as wide as possible, yet for now at least everyone is getting along and sharing the ball.
They all want to be on the court and they all want to win. The Showcase scrimmage showed just how hard it’s going to be for Rice to whittle this roster down to the guys most capable of achieving that goal.
“Everybody can play,” Bennett said.
An understatement, to say the least.