It’s been nine months since the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels last played Illinois in the NCAA Tournament, and hardly a day goes by that guard Anthony Marshall still doesn’t think about the rematch.
“This is one of the games that I’ve been looking forward to,” Marshall said of Saturday’s 2 p.m. rematch with the undefeated and 19th-ranked Fighting Illini (10-0) at the United Center in Chicago. “I know my teammates have to.”
And for good reason.
The 73-62 loss to Illinois at the BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla., back on March 18 was a stunningly one-sided head-scratcher. The No. 9 seeded Illini went on a 15-0 run and finished the first half by outscoring the No. 8 seed Rebels 33-12 en route to a 46-24 halftime lead. UNLV made just 7 of 26 shots (26.9 percent) in the first half and trailed by as many as 25 points after intermission before Illinois coach Bruce Weber mercifully called off the dogs.
Clunk. Not exactly the way you want to end your season.
“It was very upsetting and very embarrassing … to get on that stage and go out like that,” Marshall said.
Marshall and forward Chace Stanback both said they used the blowout loss as motivation while preparing for this season.
“It makes you work a little harder every time you feel like stopping,” Stanback, who had 13 points in the NCAA loss, said. “We know how we felt after that game. We kind of keep that in our mind, definitely.”
“I think about it all the time,” Marshall added. “You try not to overlook any opponent but in the back of your mind you’re thinking about it. It’s going to feel good to get back on the court with them.”
UNLV coach Dave Rice was asked after Friday morning’s practice if he was worried that his team might be too geared up to get revenge Saturday.
“I would be if we didn’t have the senior leadership that we have,” Rice said. “Our guys have done a really good job of getting ready for the next game. The next game happens to be a team that is very good and knocked us out of the NCAA Tournament last year.”
The good news for the Rebels (10-2) is that the two players who hurt them the most last March — forward Mike Davis (22 points, 9 rebounds) and point guard Demetri McCamey (17 points, 7 assists) — both graduated. The bad news is this athletic Illini squad, which already owns impressive wins over Gonzaga (82-75). Richmond (70-61) and at Maryland (71-62), may be even better. Illinois is outscoring its opponents by an average of 15.1 points per game and is allowing just 56.5 points per contest.
“They like to get up and down the floor and so do we,” Marshall said. “It’s going to be 40 minutes sort of like open gym a little bit, where you push the ball as fast as you can. It’s going to be exciting.”
Hopefully a whole lot more entertaining than the meeting nine months ago.
REBEL NOTES: Rice said guard Reggie Smith, a Marquette transfer and Chicago native, isn’t expected to be cleared in time to play in Saturday’s game. “His grades still haven’t posted,” Rice said. “It appears he’ll probably be with us on Monday (against Louisiana-Monroe at the Thomas & Mack Center). … We’ll have to try and schedule another game in Chicago for him.” Smith did not attend Friday morning’s practice. … Saturday’s game will be televised by the Big Ten Network (DirecTV 610). … Illinois leads the all-time series 3-0.