UNLV basketball:

Rebels find the right combination for satisfying victory against Wyoming

Quintrell Thomas was stellar off the bench with 13 points, helping UNLV pull away in the second half for a 62-50 victory

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV forward Quintrell Thomas takes a shot while being defended by Wyoming forward Leonard Washington during their game Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013 at the Thomas & Mack Center. UNLV won 62-50.

UNLV vs. Wyoming: Jan. 24, 2013

UNLV guard Anthony Marshall is fouled by Wyoming forward Larry Nance while contesting a rebound during their game Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013 at the Thomas & Mack Center. Launch slideshow »

Options are as important in basketball as they are at a buffet. The more options you have, the better your chance of finding the right combination.

UNLV sampled a little bit of everything Thursday night at the Thomas & Mack Center, eventually loading up its plate with a pile of Quintrell Thomas. That decision left the Rebels (16-4, 3-2) fat and happy by the end of a 62-50 victory against Wyoming (15-3, 2-3).

The Cowboys had no such choices. While the Rebels tried things like moving Anthony Marshall to shooting guard so Daquan Cook could get more minutes at the point, Wyoming worked its same players into the ground with little help from the bench. UNLV played eight guys at least 15 minutes. Wyoming had five guys reach that milestone, and all of them were on the court at least 32 minutes.

“One of the good things about this team is most players would start on another team,” said Thomas, who scored 13 points on 6-for-8 shooting with five rebounds in 22 minutes. “Teams have a lot to worry about whenever they play us.”

Wyoming struck first with an eight-point lead less than three minutes in. After that, UNLV dictated things most of the way. The slow pace the Cowboys prefer worked well enough to keep them close at halftime but the Rebels wore them down in the second half.

UNLV pulled away mostly by doing two things that coaches preach: playing defense and grabbing rebounds. The rebounding advantage is right there in the box score, showing the Rebels ahead 34-20.

As for defense, senior guard Justin Hawkins, who’s known as a great on-ball defender, came off the bench and gave the Cowboys’ guards little space to breathe, let alone drive past him. And on the inside, Wyoming’s leading scorers Leonard Washington and Larry Nance Jr. struggled the longer they played.

Washington drifted out of the paint and took eight 3-point attempts, making just two, and Nance took only two second-half shots after leading all scorers with 14 at the break. They combined for 29 points but it took them 23 shots to get there, and without other options off the bench it wasn’t nearly enough.

Thomas was the guy frustrating Washington while freshman Anthony Bennett, who had a team-leading 17 points and five rebounds, played some of the best defense of his career in controlling Nance.

“A key was taking pride individually and saying, ‘My man is not going to score on me,’ ” UNLV coach Dave Rice said.

That mentality best describes the way Thomas desires to play all the time. No matter the game, ask him about his role and he’ll say it’s to play defense and rebound. Only sometimes does he throw in ‘Score when I have a chance,’ and with Wyoming crashing down on Bennett this was one of those chances.

When a double team came early in the second half, Bennett found a streaking Thomas for an easy dunk. Marshall, who had 12 points and nine assists, did the same off a post-up that drew attention while Thomas came running in for another dunk that put UNLV up by 12 with less than 10 minutes left.

Rice said that before the game he had a feeling Thomas could play a larger role because of how physical Washington and the Cowboys like to play down low. Thomas’ offensive output was a bonus.

“He is our best one-on-one low post defender,” Rice said. “He steps up to every challenge.”

Thomas is having the most up-and-down season of an up-and-down career. The fifth-year senior is on his third collegiate coach after starting his career at Kansas. With Mike Moser injured, he started seven games earlier this year. However, prior to Thursday he had played less than 10 minutes in four of the last five games, including not getting off the bench against Air Force. He hadn’t played more than 12 since Dec. 17, which, not coincidentally, is when sophomore Khem Birch became eligible.

“It’s hard when you’re a guy who’s played significant minutes at various times of the year and now your minutes have been cut way back. That’s a hard deal,” Rice said. “It’s one of the most important things being part of a team, figuring out how to deal with that.”

Thomas has mostly taken a backseat to Birch, often splitting time with junior Carlos Lopez-Sosa, who didn’t play Thursday. When his name is called, though, Thomas proved he’s still got some moves.

“He’s been doing this his whole career,” Marshall said. “He’s not going to take a play off.”

Birch played only two second-half minutes not because of anything he did wrong, Rice just went with the hot hand. Thomas and Hawkins combined to outscore Wyoming’s bench 19-7, and while he didn’t score, Cook dished out two assists and looked more comfortable than he ever has against Division I competition.

Like Thomas, Cook doesn’t know how much he’ll play Tuesday at home against UNR or in the game after that. That’s life as an option for the Rebels. It could also be the key to surviving a league race that’s going to leave more than a few teams and players beaten and bruised by the end of the year.

The more choices Rice has, the better the Rebels’ buffet.

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

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  1. Great job guys. Some of the best defense I have seen this year. Everyone stepping up, playing their role and making it happen. Wyoming is not an easy team to play but we played their game and tempo and beat them at it. Best half court game of the year. Good job Coach Rice with the game plan.

  2. Solid win last night. Its really amazing how few comments there are when the team plays solid and wins. Did none of the lunatics that think a team that starts 2 freshman should win their road conference games by 20 points not read the article?

  3. Nice win, way to go boys.

  4. I love your comment, mike (by the way, what's with the two "the"'s before mike - stuttering issue?). Yeah, all the trolls have nothing to say when the Rebels play a solid second half and do what we hope they will do. If they did, I'm sure they would say that the Rebels were favored by 9 and a half points and just took care of business at home like they should have, but then they wouldn't have enough of a negative spin to put on the game.

    With the 3 toughest road games behind them, it is possible that the Rebels could run the table the rest of the way. They will probably be favored in every game from here on out, although as we all know, the road games are always tough and the Rebels have struggled finishing those games off. So I make no predictions, but I do think that going 14-2 in conference is possible for this team. I'm sure we'd all love to see that (well, except for the trolls). Now let's take care of business against Reno on Tuesday before a tough game at Boise St. next weekend.

  5. Is it just me or are teams in this conference grinding to a halt when it comes to style of play? Wyoming, CSU, Air Force, New Mexico...That SDSU game was so much fun to watch(winning obviously made it much better)because both teams have great athletes getting up and down the floor. It is so tough to watch these grinding, slow it down. half court teams. I just wish the Rebels would try to speed these teams up with their defense a little more. Some full court pressing,trapping,and half court ball pressure would not allow these teams to just sit and run their stuff. It would force them to make decisions under fire. I love to see us win but imposing our will on the other teams, not the other way around. Just always seems like the Rebels are the team that has to adjust our style of play, not the other way around.

  6. It was nice to see them play in the half court. It was a necessary exercise in patience. It was also nice to see Rice finally pull guys after bad shots and turnovers(Reinhardt/Jones). That being said still too many turnovers/bad shots. Lastly, I don't like how we use Bennett. I recognize Coach Rice is trying to find more ways to involve him, but I would like to see more high low action with he and Birch. Oh yeah one more thing, does anyone else agree that they would like to see Goodman more? I would prefer him to Moser for the following reasons: 1. Moser doesn't provide much O, and has turned into a sub par defender. 2.Goodman is a Frosh who plays better D, can rebound, and would provide some much needed toughness to this team. Thoughts?

  7. Tough win last night, and the Rebels really fought after the half to start pulling away. Wyoming looked to start running out of gas with the shallow rotation. Big game for our experienced seniors.

  8. I agree guru that Goodman should get some minutes. He is an energy guy that in 2 minutes against SDSU grabbed 3 boards. He definitely makes mistakes but no more than Moser or BDJ. He had some great games during the non conference. He has the tenacity and toughness that will always help. Would love to see him get at least 5-10 minutes a game.

  9. Feel bad for Moser. To tall and lanky to cover small forward, to weak to cover a good power forward. Offensivley can't shoot the three, post-up, or take anyone off the dribble.

    His mentality has to change from being a scorer to a hustle guy that sets picks and gets rebounds. His points should come from put-backs and wide open 3's.

  10. @GURU - I absolutely agree with you about Goodman. If he plays about 5-10 minutes per game, I think he can make a positive impact. However, he needs to be on the floor with guys who can score. He plays with great energy, can rebound, and is a good finisher in fast break situations.

  11. Early in the 2nd half, when Wyoming's big guy Washington gave Moser a cheap shot under the basket, and the ref's called a foul away from the ball on UNLV, I thought, 'time to take this game over and kick some butt'...and did they ever. It was never closer than 9 points I believe after that.
    Great win Rebels!

  12. Great game plan Rice??? Rice wouldn't know a game plan if it sat next to him. The Rebels win had nothing to with Rice but just playing the way they're supposed to.