UNLV coach Dave Rice had made it a point several times this season to laud the leadership of forward Mike Moser.
He did it again after Wednesday night’s grind-it-out 85-57 victory over UC Irvine at the Thomas & Mack Center, and then the 6-foot-8 junior from Portland, Ore., showed why he was worthy of such praise during the post-game press conference.
When asked if he was surprised by the quick start to the season by true freshman forward Anthony Bennett, who tied Moser for game-high scoring honors with 19 points, Moser replied: “Nah, not at all.
“I mean, look at him, man,” Moser continued. “He’s 6-9. He can bounce it. He can shoot it. You let him get too close to the basket, he’ll dunk on your head and flex afterward. He’s talented, man. He’s going to continue to do that most definitely for us. … He’s our go-to guy.”
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Whoa! Wasn’t it Moser who some felt should be the Mountain West’s preseason player of the year? Wasn’t it Moser who almost left after his sophomore season for the NBA? Wasn’t it Moser who was piling up double-double after double-double last season while leading UNLV to 26 wins and an NCAA Tournament berth a year ago while Bennett was starring at nearby Findlay Prep?
Yet just five games into the 2012-13 season, Moser is already calling the talented Bennett, a likely NBA lottery pick next summer, the team’s “go-to guy.”
Nobody can ever accuse Moser of NOT checking his ego at the door. A lot of college players in his situation might resort to pouting because the team isn’t tailoring everything around them and a newcomer has taken away some of the spotlight.
“There’s great chemistry between Anthony and Mike,” Rice said. “They room on the road together. It’s just a situation where they’re leaders on our team.
“Mike Moser has been absolutely terrific in terms of leadership. He’s the captain. He understands the challenge of having a lot of new faces, getting guys better. He gives what we need in terms of energy but he’s also given us a scoring punch.”
Moser and Bennett combined for 38 points and 15 rebounds Wednesday night as the Runnin’ Rebels improved to 4-1 with the physical win over a UC Irvine team that seemed content to hack away on anybody who got close to the basket.
The Anteaters (3-5) were whistled for 25 fouls, sending Bennett crashing to the floor on several occasions. The Rebels responded by sinking 24 of 35 free throws.
Guard Katin Reinhardt added 13 points, including a pair of 3-pointers, and senior point guard Anthony Marshall had a game-high nine assists and just one turnover in 30 minutes. Freshman guard Savon Goodman had a big night off the bench with six points, seven rebounds and two steals.
UNLV finished with 22 assists while turning the ball over just seven times. The Rebels never trailed in the contest, methodically building a 36-24 halftime lead before slowing pulling away in the second half.
“Very pleased with our effort the entire game,” Rice said.
The Rebels now prepare for their final home game at the Thomas & Mack for 18 days thanks to the National Finals Rodeo when they host Hawaii at 4 p.m. on Saturday.