Saturday, November 12, 2011

One half J-Hawk, One half Alpha-Dog

UNLV vs. Grand Canyon 11-11-11
By Jason Taylor

Borrowing a phrase from the founder, is all about UNAPOLOGETIC FANDOM, which is cool because we get to break rules of NORMAL NORMALDOM, and give a fan-to-fan perspective.  GO REBELS!

One of the biggest developing stories is the question of what exactly Coach Rice meant when he promised he was going to put "Runnin'" back into the Runnin' Rebels.

There are several stories in our opener against Grand Canyon, a division II school that took a strategy of actually "out running" the Rebels, as UNLV only had 7 scholarship players eligible for the game. 

Are we Runnin?
The best way to describe the new offense… Frenetic.
Bellfield crosses mid-court and the offensive set goes in motion.  Bellfield cuts right, and fires a 3.  
Massamba rebounds… he's fouled.
Defensive rebound by Moser.  To Bellfield.  He finds Massamba ahead in the middle.  Shot. 
Steal by Moser.  He drives to the basket in open court.  Dunk!
Bellfield crosses mid-court.  He fires ahead to Massamba.  Layup, Good!

The 6'8" Moser rebounds and dribbles up through traffic.  To the corner…  Hawkins fires a 3.

Steal by Bellfield.  He passes the time line.  He swings to Wallace.  The shot is up.  Good!  3 pointer. 

Steal by Hawkins.  Swing to Wallace.  He fires a 3 and misses.  Moser, Rebounding DUNK!

UNLV shot the ball 94 times in its opener… 40 2pt attempts, 24 3pt attempts, and 30 free throws.  That's more than 2 attempts per minute, and remember, there was another team on the court!
So, to answer the question… Yes.  We're Runnin, and Shootin'

An emerging effect of "Runnin'"

In order to keep up, the first two teams have had to try to cover the lateral movement, the swing, skip and dump passes, the rebounding strength of our "bigs", and the onslaught of drives.   The result… a plethora of fouls.  UNLV had 36 free throw attempts against Washburn, and 30 in the GC game.

This fact was a "plus" against Washburn, as free throws helped us win the game with a 26-point boost.  However, we only shot 50% against GC.  This was a major reason they were able to hang so tough against us in the first half.  We flat stunk at the line.

Game Strategy
As covered in the review, it was apparent something(s) in the D. Rice strategy would have to yield to the fact that we only had 7 scholarship players lined up for the game.  Rice has shown strong favor to man-to-man "D", combined with his new, rapid firing offense.  Either he'd have to slow down on offense, play some zone defense, or bring in the walk-ons.
The answers…

While the offense was rapid firing, there were several instances where the offense was allowed to rest for a few seconds as Rice called for the occasional "walk-up" by the point guard.  We took all opportunities to push, but also occasionally "slowed-up" when prudent.

We saw the first Zone defensive sets I can recall in years.  The first switch to zone yielded a steal.  However, GC was able to capitalize on 5-10 first half 3 point shooting, several of which came while the Rebels employed zone defense.  This fact, combined with our POOR effort at the line, allowed a half time score of 39-38, Rebels.

Overall, though, I felt very comfortable with the team's ability to run the zone.  The pressure was still intense.  GC just hit some nice outside shots.
Grand Canyon's coach was pushing his team to run as he subbed through a deep bench.  He thought he could wear us down.

The second half was interesting.  Coach Rice relied less on the zone, but made one key change.  Hawkins gave Bellfield some relief by taking over the point for several minutes.  I'll get back to that, as that is part of the overriding game story.

Multi-MinuteMania.  Coach Rice stuck with his 7 scholarship players, and to GC's dismay, they were not able to outrun us.  This fact makes a statement.  Four UNLV players ended up with over 35 minutes… Bellfield, Hawkins, Moser, and surprisingly, Wallace (it's very rare any single player reaches that stat for the Rebels).  Yes, we huffed at times, but D. Rice was not even in dire need to use his timeouts as rest stops.  Pretty impressive.

Q and Brice split near equal time at center netting a combined 22 points and 11 rebounds, and Mashour had 11 quality, yet largely uneventful minutes.

Double-Digititous is a rare circumstance, but struck the Rebels in the opener.  5 of 7 players scored in double digits:  Brice, Q, Moser, J-Hawk, and O.  It was a largely balanced attack.

The strategy worked.  Rice passed his first "test", and managed the game in pro fashion, even while missing 3 key players.  The final score: 83-66.

An Amazing One-Man-Stat
Mike Moser had a double-double.  Ya, blah, blah.  We're going to see him do that more often than not, I believe.  He is off to a good start with 16 career points per game.

Enough said.

The Real Story of the Night
One strong measure of confidence in a player is readily evidenced.  Just watch to see who gets the ball or takes a shot after timeouts.  Late in the game, for the first time I can remember, that player was Justin Hawkins, AKA J-Hawk.

I've heard rumors that J-Hawk has had runs in practice this year where he couldn't miss.  That's encouraging, but how will that translate at game-time?
Justin had an answer Friday night.

The senior has been a "glue guy" for the rebels over the years.  Kruger has subbed him in with confidence, knowing he'll play exceptional defense, score a few points, and manage ball control.
This year, Justin has benefited from Stanback's suspension and, at a smallish 6'3", he has received a lot of small forward minutes in the first 2 outings. 

In the first half, J-Hawk was J-Hawk, as advertised.  He played "D", missed a 3, made a 3, made a layup, grabbed a few rebounds, and snatched a few steals. 

Then, everything changed.

The second half came around, and it seemed Bellfield was struggling a bit with muscle cramps that are becoming more of a story this year.   D. Rice, with no other choice, began putting the ball in Justin's hands at point guard.

It was like watching Miracle Grow take hold over the course of 20 minutes.  The fist time he brought it up, he was a bit unsure.  But, the more he bounced the ball, the stronger, and surer the bounce became. 

His shot transgressed as well.  Justin received the ball in the corner on a play, and his feet were in perfect shooting position.  Not knowing who he actually was for a second, I knew the shot was good before leaving his hands.  He stepped into his shot and snapped the bottom of the net.

He drove and ran, and scored a few layups. 

On a "driving right" play from the top of the key, he drew defenders and hooked a pass to a well positioned Massamba for an assist.  He was actually looking like a point guard!
Then the confidence came from the Coaches.  They sensed he was hot, and made sure he had a look, or control of the ball after a few timeouts.  It's the ultimate compliment, and J-Hawk transformed, if just for the time being, into the Alpha Dog.  He was the leader on the floor.

Flush with confidence, J-Dog crossed the ball through his legs a few times, and then, directed a play.  This one, however, was a play he directed for himself, pointing to a spot 5 feet in front of him, which set a pick on the 3pt line, dead ahead of the basket. 

The "Big" obliged, and Justin pulled up for a 23 footer, and DRAINED IT!

It was a moment, and a great story to start the season.
I can only imagine Mamma-Hawk watching. The crowd raged.  
The tears had to have flowed.

See you Monday night!

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