The motto for Dave Rice’s first UNLV basketball team, found on billboards and numerous media ads during the past few months, is “Let’s Run.”
But when the Runnin’ Rebels open their 2011-12 season tonight at 7 p.m. against Washburn (Kan.) at the Thomas & Mack Center, Rice, a reserve guard on UNLV’s famed 1990 national championship team, will be focused more on the other end of the floor.
” ‘Let’s Run’ is the second half (of the equation),” Rice said. ” ‘Let’s Defend’ is the first half and most important part of that, because without ‘Let’s Defend’, there is no running.
“We can try and run on made baskets and we will some,” Rice continued. “But we all know the most efficient transition offense comes after a defensive stop, whether it’s a turnover or a defensive rebound.”
Rice, who developed a reputation as one of the nation’s top offensive minds as a top assistant at BYU, believes his team’s success will start on the defensive end. And he points to one of his old mentors, ex-Runnin’ Rebel head coach Jerry Tarkanian, as an example why.
“Coach Tark’s teams were among the greatest defensive teams in the history of college basketball,” Rice said. “I think Coach Tark gets a lot of credit for his run and gun (offensive) style, but it really started on the defensive end. That’s one thing we can’t lose sight of is that we have got to remain a very committed, solid defensive team or all the talk about running is really irrelevant.”
So while many UNLV fans tonight will be focused on how many dunks or 3-pointers the Runnin’ Rebels get, Rice will be focused on something much less glamorous.
“The No. 1 key for us is defensive rebounding,” Rice said. “We’ve got to become a better defensive rebounding team. We’ve got to make more of a commitment to it. It really takes a collective effort. That’s probably the one thing I’m most concerned about, one thing I really want to watch and get better at … defensive rebounding.”
Senior forward Chace Stanback (suspension) and transfers Bryce Jones and Reggie Smith will sit out tonight’s game leaving Rice with only nine scholarship players and three walk-ons to play. Senior Brice Massamba will start at center with talented UCLA transfer Mike Moser at forward along with guards Oscar Bellfield, Anthony Marshall and Justin Hawkins, arguably the team’s best defender.
“Fitting guys into a rotation and developing team chemistry … I think there’s a real value in these exhibition games from that standpoint,” Rice said.
The Rebels will have one other tune-up — a closed scrimmage with Loyola Marymount on Saturday — before hosting Grand Canyon on Nov. 11 in the season-opener.
“I think we’ve got a chance to be a good team this year,” Rice said, “but we’ve got to become a better defensive rebounding team.”