Is a great golf shot any less impressive because it happened on an easy course?
Last night, the UNLV basketball team knocked their first shot of the season stiff. Sure, it was from the white tees, and it took place on a muni course, but boy did it look good nonetheless.
The Rebels were too big, too fast, and too good for an overmatched UC Riverside team on Friday night, hammering the Highlanders 85-41.
UNLV was balanced too. Chace Stanback, whose jump shot looks about as reliable as a layup these days, led the Rebels with 17 points on 7 out of 12 shooting.
Guards Anthony Marshall and Oscar Bellfield chipped in with 16 and 15 respectively, the former adding a career high 7 assists, the latter knocking down 3 of his 5 attempts from long range.
The Rebels, as advertised, look to be deeper and more athletic than any of Coach Lon Kruger's previous UNLV teams. They also looked every bit a top 25 caliber team on Friday night, even without the services of their leading scorer from a season ago, senior guard Tre'von Willis.
With Willis expected back in the lineup for next Saturday's home showdown against 24th-ranked Wisconsin, it's hard to imagine this UNLV team not being a card carrying member of the top 25 for too much longer.
The Rebels trademark defensive pressure suffocated the inexperienced Highlanders, holding Riverside to an anemic 22.4% from the field. UNLV's work on the glass though, a recurring issue since Coach Lon Kruger's arrival, showed some promise. The Rebels, led by guard Derrick Jasper's 13 caroms, outrebounded their Big West foe 48-39.
A pair of newcomers, each expected to help shore up UNLV's inside game -- unquestionably the team's biggest weakness in recent years -- were solid in their debuts.
6'-11" Carlos Lopez did a little of everything on Friday. The redshirt freshman scored just 5 points, but he filled up the rest of the stat sheet, pulling down 6 rebounds, blocking 4 shots, even dishing out 4 assists.
Kansas transfer Quintrell Thomas was efficient against the smaller Highlanders, scoring 8 points on 4 out of 5 shooting while collecting 5 rebounds in 19 minutes.
With Wisconsin's visit to the Thomas & Mack Center just a mere week away, the course will be getting a whole lot tougher for the Rebels.
The return of Willis, though, gives an already very good UNLV team the best club in its bag.