Fans inside the Thomas & Mack Center were loudly booing UNLV with nine minute to go, as UC Santa Barbara extended its lead to 69-47. For those that stayed, the boos reemerged at the end of the Rebels’ embarrassing 86-65 home loss to the Gauchos on Tuesday night.
Alan Williams, one of the top forwards in the Big West, shot 9-of-19 from the field for 21 points, nine bounds and two blocks while Kyle Boswell added 19 points. Dave Rice played 12 players on Tuesday night, as the team shot 37 percent from the floor with none of his starters cracking double figures.
Jamal Aytes put UNLV up 13-11 with more than 12 minutes to go in the first half. The Rebels would hold that lead for 48 seconds before the Gauchos reclaimed the lead off a Taran Brown 3-pointer. From there UC Santa Barbara built a 16-point lead heading into halftime. It didn’t get much better in the second half, as the Gauchos got the lead as high as 26.
Rice has a roster that’s filled with talent, but it’s new talent playing together after seeing Anthony Bennett leave for the NBA, Anthony Marshall graduate and Katin Reinhardt and Mike Moser electing to transfer.
Khem Birch and Bryce Dejean-Jones, who combined for 13 points, six rebounds and five assists on Tuesday, return as starters while Roscoe Smith — plagued with first half foul trouble against UC Santa Barbara — is eligible after sitting out last season. Deville Smith and former McDonald’s All-American Jelan Kendrick fill out the roster. So, the talent is there, but first, that talent needs to mesh together on the floor.
The Rebels have not had an ideal month to kick off the season. Remember on Nov. 1, the Rebels lost a 71-70 exhibition game to Division II Dixie State. November can be even more unkind to UNLV when Jahii Carson and Arizona State come to Vegas, followed by a game against Illinois coming up the week after. Before those games against power conference teams, the Rebels host Nebraska-Omaha on Friday.
Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.
After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.
Video credit: Wyoming Athletics
Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.
Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.
Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.
Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.
Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.
But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.