Saturday, December 17, 2011

Early Christmas present for UNLV fans - UNLV beats Illinois 64-48


For everyone who still felt anguish, despair, and resentment towards Illinois for embarrassing us in last year’s tournament – this was a beautiful thing. For Mike Moser, it was a opportunity to shake off his injury that has hampered him the last several games (including the two losses) as well get a chance to play this time against the Illini. For the Rebels as a team, it was UNLV’s mission to knock off another ranked and undefeated team on a neutral* court.

Some of the issues that had plagued the Rebels in the last four games were slow starts and lack of defensive energy, especially in these mid-west road games. There was a team that had a lack of defensive energy, thankfully it wasn’t UNLV. Illinois only had one thing going for them all afternoon, and that was D.J. Richardson pulling off hide-behind-your-teammate 3 pointers. The Rebels successfully covered the passing lanes, handled the bigger more athletic center (who happens to lead the Big 10 in blocks), and create a deficit of confidence in the Illinois from the jump.

UNLV got out to a fantastic start, leading 4-0. They kept momentum by defending fiercely, and were very active in getting a hand in the face of nearly every shooter. Early on, two players from the Rebels got the ball rolling, Brice Massamba and Mike Moser. Massamba, who is 2-3x the player he has been in previous seasons, was dominate and aggressive. Moser, who was finishing recovery from a sprained wrist, gave himself a huge boost of confidence when he made a nice 3 point shot early. The lead went back and forth between UNLV and Illinois for awhile, then UNLV found some space with 6 minutes left in the half. That run, which helped UNLV get a 33-22 point lead at halftime, was the product of consecutive jumpers by Quintrell Thomas, a fastbreak layup by Justin Hawkins, a steal by Anthony Marshall that led to a 3 pointer (by him), a pair of free throws by Marshall, and a free throw by Quintrell Thomas.

First half shooting favored the Rebels 42% to Illinois 28%. The Rebels didn’t feel the need to jack up too many 3 pointers, and only made 2 of 6 attempts, where as Illinois jacked up 11 three point attempts and only made 3. The Rebels were also a perfect 7-7 from the charity stripe and outrebounded the Illini 20-17. Both teams were fairly sloppy with the ball (UNLV 8 Illiniois 9 turnovers), but UNLV capitalized off those turnovers scoring 8 points to Illinois’ 1 point.

In the second half, UNLV actually pushed the lead higher, outscoring the Illini 31-26. This game was furthered by impressive outings by our three post-players, Brice Massamba, Carlos Lopez, and welcome back Quintrell Thomas. Brice was simply agrresive and was not intimiated by the taller and longer Illinois defenders. Carlos Lopez was as creative as he could be, with ball and head fakes that lead to impressive moves under the basket. Even the Big-10 network announcers were highly impressed with his footwork. Missing in action since the North Carolina game, Quintrell Thomas provided hustle, energy, and did a lot of great things that helped the Rebels win the game. Quintrell’s active hands were responsivle for several Illinois turnovers, and he was able to finish many times at the rim, and shoot some great short range jumpers. Quintrell Thomas finished with an impressive 13 points, 7 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 blocks, and only 1 turnover and 1 foul! Brice Massamba finished with 8 points on 3-3 shooting, 2 rebounds and only two fouls in 9 minutes of action. Carlos Lopez had 6 points, 4 rebounds, 2 steals and 1 block. The effort of our big men will surely intimidate our foes in the future, and make them respect us more inside.

UNLV’s lead wasn’t always so high, in the second half the Illini cut the lead to as close as 8 points, mainly the work of D.J. Richardson and Leonard Miles. Richardson, who had things working for him all game, maintained his scoring throughout the game and finished with 19 points. Miles, didn’t achieve much in the first half but picked up his scoring and got some of the inside looks he missed in the first half. UNLV kept their feet and hands moving and created a significant amount of turnovers (10 to Illinois’ 6) in the second half. UNLV again shied away from the three pointer and only attempted 5 in the second half, making only 1. Illinois, as a team were completely unprepared for this game and missed a lot of free throws, open shots, and layups. In fact, I can’t remember a team having so many airballs – especially a ranked team.

Mike Moser was everything  great he had been in the past, and had an impressive 17 points, 11 rebounds. Moser had an uncharacteristic 6 turnovers, which frankly I didn’t personally witness even though I watched the game. The Rebels did a lot of good things despite not having their shooting rolling as well as games past. As a team, it was a block party – UNLV notched 9 blocks, many of them leading to transition buckets. Assists were still lacking at 11. The Rebels accumulated 10 steals, many leading to transition as well. Rebel Reign MVPS are Mike Moser and Quintrell Thomas, they simply brought it today.

Other odds and ends: UNLV had quite a decent traveling contingent at this game, they were visible and at many points you could hear the Rebels chant over the airwaves. Oscar Bellfield shot poorly, but did a lot of other things well – hopefully he’ll unlock a hot streak, especially from 3, soon. Chace Stanback, whom the announcers knew nothing of other than he was impressive against North Carolina, only had two points late in this contest. While, as I’ve said at least twice previously, UNLV is a deep enough team with multiple players other than Stanback who can light up the scoreboard, he needs to solve his shooting issues. Even in the UCSB game, he was pretty quiet until overtime. Getting Stanback some easy buckets early in the game may be key to his effectiveness, because something is clearly off. UNLV had at least 6 dunks, some by Moser were NBA jam worthy!

It was a great game, a statement game, a revenge game, and an excellent tournament resume booster. In the United Center, the Runnin’ Rebels may has well been the Chicago Bulls in the black and red uniforms. As impressed as I am with the road win, I am more impressed by our rookie head coach’s ability to pull of this win and correct the mistakes of the last couple games. GO REBELS!

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