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UNLV Leftovers: Nonconference finale featured fantastic offensive performances

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV forward Anthony Bennett salutes after a play against Cal State Bakersfield during their game Saturday, Jan. 5, 2013 at the Thomas & Mack Center. UNLV won their non-conference finale 84-63.

UNLV vs. Cal State Bakersfield 2013

UNLV forward Anthony Bennett sails in for a dunk against Cal State Bakersfield during their game Saturday, Jan. 5, 2013, at the Thomas & Mack Center. UNLV won the game 84-63. Launch slideshow »

By one metric, two of UNLV’s top five offensive performance of the season came in Saturday night’s 84-63 victory against Cal State Bakersfield. And had he played enough minutes to qualify, Quintrell Thomas — 10 points on 3-of-4 shooting and six rebounds in nine minutes — may have bested them both.

The two outstanding performers were Anthony Bennett and Bryce Dejean-Jones. Bennett scored the team’s first 11 points, finishing with 28 points and 10 rebounds in 29 minutes. He was 7-for-9 on 2s, 3-for-4 on 3s and 5-for-6 at the free-throw line. That was good for a 171 Offensive Rating, according to kenpom.com.

Throwing out the La Verne game (sorry to Carlos Lopez-Sosa and his 185) that was the second-best single game of the season, behind only Anthony Marshall's 180 against Northern Arizona. The other top performances were Thomas against Northern Iowa (168) and Khem Birch against Canisius (167).

The ORating was developed by Dean Oliver in the book “Basketball on Paper” to help properly judge a player's personal offensive efficiency. Bennett leads the team for the season at 127.3, which ranks in the top 50 in the country.

In that regard, Bennett’s performance was hardly a surprise. However...

Dejean-Jones needed a game like this

UNLV coach Dave Rice has expressed his happiness with Dejean-Jones’ progress for weeks, but it hasn’t always showed up on game day. On Saturday, it did as Dejean-Jones scored 12 points on 4-for-8 shooting and six assists with no turnovers. It tied Birch’s 167 ORating in the Canisius game, and the most important part is that Dejean-Jones passed up some open shots for better looks that resulted in high-percentage shots. He’s always had the talent to excel in Rice’s system, but when he tries to make too many plays and rushes shots, it hurts the team.

“I told Bryce that he was making the game a little bit too hard on himself,” Rice said.

Against Bakersfield, Dejean-Jones let the defenders dictate what he did with the ball rather than forcing the issue. That’s an important step in his development.

His performance was even more important because freshman Katin Reinhardt really struggled while battling an illness. Reinhardt shot 2-for-10, including 0-for-4 on 3s, and committed two turnovers.

Whenever Mike Moser returns to the lineup — and it could be as early as Wednesday at New Mexico — either Dejean-Jones or Reinhardt is going to the bench. Whoever it is will likely still play close to starters’ minutes, so it’s not a big deal. Dejean-Jones at least made that decision difficult with Saturday's performance.

Dejean-Jones is the choice if Rice wants to start with a better defensive lineup, but Reinhardt has been the more efficient scorer this season. Really, though, the more important question is which guy is going to be on the court at the end of games? I expect Rice will try a few different end-of-game lineups in the first half of conference play while searching for the best mix.

Game preparation will be key

Rice pointed out something interesting in Saturday’s postgame: From now until the Mountain West tournament, the Rebels will have at least two practice days before each game.

Although that’s not the best preparation for the NCAA Tournament, where a victory can award you a game less than 48 hours later, it should be beneficial for a team that still has a lot to figure out.

The rotation will certainly tighten up in conference play, but that’s also dependent on Moser’s return. Not only does UNLV need to get him back on the court, it needs to figure out exactly how best to use him.

Rice said Moser would see time at both forward spots, moving and outside depending on the matchups and the Rebels’ lineup.

“We’ll see how that shakes out,” Rice said.

Thanks to the schedule, UNLV will have ample time before each game to figure out how it wants to piece together its lineup against each opponent. In-game adjustments will always be important, but it can only help to have plenty of time to put together each game plan.

Bennett really enjoying himself

A big takeaway from Bennett’s game, from the media and I think from fans, is that he’s having a lot of fun playing college basketball.

“I would say it’s more fun (than I thought),” Bennett said. “The crowd just gets me into it every game.”

I think the more accurate description is that Bennett on the court is pure id. He smiles and he’s happy in the simplicity of the game. Bennett also sneers at opponents, stares them down and refuses to let them help him up.

With all of the small things he does throughout a game — hitting the ball out of people’s hands when the play is dead, pulling himself up on the rim, staring down opponents and yelling from the opening tip — I’m surprised Bennett hasn’t been called for a technical foul this year. I’m not saying he should be or that there’s one play that absolutely should have been called; I just didn’t expect a freshman to be able to get away with as much extracurricular activities as he does.

Speaking of fouls, Bennett actually deserves a lot of credit for staying out of foul trouble. He hasn’t been called for more than three fouls in a game, which is very impressive for an interior player, never mind a freshman.

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

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  1. Before all the trolling and negativity hits the comments in this article, I'd like to say that I'm pleased with the non-conference record this year, and I'm excited to see how the Rebels do against tough conference opponents. I'm not expecting them to win every game by 20 points like some other people, but I hope they play competitively in every game and win a majority of them. A conference championship would be a great accomplishment this year.

  2. I'm not expecting shellackings. It's UNLV! Never expect to blowout opponents. You guys just better hope they win one road game out of the next three, or they can be sitting 6th in the MWC and on the bubble.

  3. Its going to be very interesting to see if this team can buck the trend of the previous few years and get better as the conference season rolls on. The one thing we really have this year is quality depth. We can absorb foul trouble or a poor game by one or two of our starters this year. That will be big as the season rolls on and games are played against better and familiar opponents. Big key to me is if we can dictate the pace of the game with our defense. Our defensive numbers are very good but just watching the games it just does not seem like we impose our will on the other team. They are allowed to run their offense without much pressure. The CSUB game I thought our guys got after them much better than I have seen. Hope this trend continues. Would love to stick it to Stevie in the Pit. Runnin' Rebels!

  4. The reason AB hasn't got more than 3 fouls is because he doesn't get after it on the defensive end. He doesn't hustle on defense nor does he really try to block shots. He needs a lot of work defensively. He plays defense like a matador fights a bull. "go ahead...just go right by me". He needs to get more fouls because that means he is trying harder.

    Don't get wrong I love the kid, his defense is normal for a freshman, his offense is like a senior.