UNLV basketball:

Rice wants Rebels to score in transition no matter what Boise State does

UNLV coach wants to take better advantage of the team’s solid defense by getting out past opponents for easy baskets

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV guard Anthony Marshall passes to forward Khem Birch during their game against UNR Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013 at the Thomas & Mack. UNLV won the game 66-54.

Dave Rice wants to score easy points. UNLV’s opponents want to do everything possible to prevent exactly that.

That’s the basis for a battle the Rebels (17-4, 4-2) will wage the rest of the season, starting with Saturday’s game at Boise State (14-6, 2-4) on Time Warner Cable SportsNet at 6 p.m. Las Vegas time.

Rice wants to turn his league-leading defense into points at the other end with transition possessions that push opponents on their heels. The counter UNLV often sees is teams that forgo crashing more than one or two guys to the rim for offensive rebounds, instead sending most of their players back as soon as the shot goes up to prevent the Rebels’ run outs. Think of it like cherry picking in pickup basketball, except guys are leaking out to stop open layups instead of take them.

There’s only so much the Rebels can do in transition when the defense gets back and gets set. Still, Rice wants them to do more.

“We don’t do a good enough job of being efficient in offensive transition off of defensive stops,” he said. “… That’s the place we need the greatest improvement.”

That will be difficult to accomplish Saturday for a number of reasons, starting with the Broncos’ pace. Boise State is just above the national average for adjusted tempo, according to kenpom.com. The Broncos average 67.1 possessions per game compared to the Rebels’ 70.1.

And the Broncos may try to slow it down even more if they have to play without junior guard Jeff Elorriaga, who missed three of the last four games with concussion-like symptoms. Boise basically played Wednesday’s 20-point loss at Colorado State without both Elorriaga, who would lead the nation in offensive rating if he played more minutes, and leading scorer Derrick Marks, who played only nine minutes because he was suffering from the flu.

“Those are two important cogs in their attack,” Rice said.

Rice said he anticipates Elorriaga will play, though with concussion-related injuries it’s tough to predict anything with much confidence. Another likelihood is the Rebels will start the game the same as they did in Tuesday’s victory against UNRAnthony Marshall, Katin Reinhardt, Bryce Dejean-Jones and Anthony Bennett — except Khem Birch will likely return to the lineup at center after coming off the bench as punishment for missing practice.

Birch was great in that victory, compiling 14 points, seven rebounds, three steals and two blocks. Birch can be a huge asset on the break because the opposing center won’t be able to run nearly as well and Birch would tower over guards trying to stop him in the paint. However, he knows those opportunities could be few and far between.

“I feel like it’s dependent on how well Boise State gets back,” Birch said. “You can’t run transition if they don’t rebound, but if they try to rebound we’re going to go.”

Last year at Taco Bell Arena the Rebels won 77-72 with a big help from Mike Moser's 18 points and 21 rebounds. It was the first of two back-to-back overtime victories on the road (the Rebels then won by two at Air Force), the only conference wins UNLV would claim away from the Thomas & Mack Center all season.

This year the Rebels already have one, at San Diego State, and getting a second would keep some pressure on New Mexico (18-3, 5-1), which hosts UNR on Saturday. Since every game carries so much importance right now Rice might not change how long he’s been playing Marshall without something drastic like, say, a big lead.

Marshall leads the Mountain West with 37.3 minutes per game in conference games. Rice likes keeping him out there for his defense and because the senior point guard also leads the league in assists per game (7.3) and assist-to-turnover ratio (2.2).

“Whatever the coaches need out of me,” Marshall said. “… I’m young, I’m not like 30-something and stuff so I really don’t need to manage my minutes. I’m fresh, I can go.”

There are varied opinions on whether playing this much is the best plan long term, just as there are about how well Marshall has acclimated to his role at the point after being an all-conference shooting guard last season. The total minutes are one thing, but there’s no denying there have been games UNLV wouldn’t have won without Marshall taking over in the second half. Marshall said he's always looking for a balance between finding open teammates and capitalizing on his own opportunities. The most important thing is he has Rice’s vote of confidence, which is far more important than anyone else’s opinion.

Confidence, though, doesn’t mean Rice is satisfied. Run outs often start with an outlet pass to the point guard who then has to decide whether to push it or pull up into a half-court set. It’s clear Rice wants more of the former with possessions that quickly end with UNLV “getting something.”

“It makes it harder when teams are sending two or three guys back,” Rice said, “but it still doesn’t change the fact we need to get more easy baskets.”

The Runnin’ Rebels do have a moniker to live up to, after all.

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

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  1. I'm glad Rice acknowledges that there haven't been a whole lot of transition baskets recently and is trying to fix that sooner rather than later. I think part of the problem is the rebs don't really have the best finishers at the rim with the guards. BDJ often draws really hard charges, Reinhardt is better at a spot up 3 if he can get there, Hawkins has trouble laying it up at the rim and/or not getting blocked in the process, and Marshall feels like a 50/50 chance but does often draw a foul in the process. Moser, Birch, Bennett, and to some degree Thomas can finish strong at the rim but they are often the ones pulling the ball down at the other end of the court and passing ahead.

  2. @Sofakingbored (Wade Fasano) - I think Savon Goodman is their best finisher, but he's not ready to play big minutes yet.

  3. I am all for the Rebels playing faster. That is the single most important reason I became a rabid fan in the first place. The unfortunate dilemma with this however is we average almost 15 turnovers a game. We are not a good ball handling, decision making team. Guys like Moser, Dejean-Jones, Reinhardt, and Bennett routinely turn the ball over by being out of control. They also happen to be the guys most likely to be fed the ball on the fast break. That turnover number would not be quite as concerning if we averaged 85-95 ppg simply because that would mean we create many more possesions and 15 to's would not be as damaging. But when you are scoring in the 60's with regularity 15 to's are brutal. Again, I would absolutely love for the Rebels to play as fast as possible, but these leopards will most likely not be able to change their spots so quickly.

  4. You're right on track with your comments about turnovers, gumby.

    The more a team tries to push the tempo, the more they will turn it over. In the grand scheme of things, we are on the higher end of the spectrum as far as points scored per game nationally, but we'd obviously like to run even more. Of course, every team knows that and does everything they can to slow us down. Wyoming, for example, doesn't even line players up on the block when they shoot free-throws against us. Hard to run on offense when they've got 4 guys set on D by the time we pull down the rebound.

    The key for the remainder of the season is to continue to rebound very well and continue to progress with the half-court offense. I'd love to see the bench used a bit more so we can pressure a little more on defense and hopefully cause some turnovers, but it's hard to fault our defense with the very low percentage teams are shooting against us.

  5. Oh my GOD , Rice finally wants to score on fast breaks and transitions. Wow , I'm so excited I can't wait. Slow learner that Rice guy, pssst here's a secret,,, YOU SHOULD BE PLAYING THAT GAME EVERY GAME , DOH !

  6. LOL you gotta be kiddin me, down at the half to Boise St. ? What happen tho the fast breaks Rice? you got em runniong down there but then they go to half court when they get there. Why doesn't Augman just take over and let Rice sit the bench?.

  7. LOL way to go Rice, more than a minute left and he has already blown all his time outs then he has the team 1 point down and has the clock in his favor and they shoot a 3 for no reason at all, math must not be his strong point. This is basic coaching knowledge the no one the staff seems to have. He was about a C player and he's a D+ coach.