By Steve Guiremand
UNLV officially begins the Dave Rice era tonight when it hosts Grand Canyon at 7 p.m. at the Thomas & Mack Center. But the contest is also a significant milestone for a popular Runnin’ Rebel player.
It’s the first official game back for guard Kendall Wallace, who will start after missing the entire 2010-11 season following surgery to repair a torn ACL in his right knee.
“I got some of the butterflies out in the Washburn (exhibition) and then the scrimmage (against Loyola Marymount last Saturday),” Wallace said. “I’m feeling good. I’m ready to get out there and get this season going. I think that all of our guys feel coming into the first game of the year. We’re just excited to get the preseason over with and play in games that start counting.”
Wallace has endured some swelling in the knee recently which has limited his practice time. But he starred in the Rebels’ eight-point scrimmage win over Loyola Marymount last weekend after scoring just three points — all on free throws — in 23 minutes in the Rebels’ sloppy 58-50 exhibition win over Washburn on Nov. 1.
“It’s good,” Wallace said of the knee. “It’s never going to be 100 percent but I mean it feels great and I’m not really in a whole lot of pain. I feel strong. I’m just trying to take it easy and make sure I’m ready to go during the games. … I’m just excited to be able to play again.”
Wallace, who shot 39.9 percent from 3-point range as a junior, figures to play a key role in an up-tempo offense that should provide plenty of outside shooting opportunities.
“I think everybody is excited about what kind of offense we have coming in here,” Wallace said. “All of our guys can come out and hit shots and we’re going to find a lot more open shots in this system. Once we figure out when and where we’re going to get the shots, I think guys will start knocking them down more consistently.”
It’s somewhat ironic that Wallace, who prepped at Mountain View High School in Mesa, Ariz., would make his return tonight against Grand Canyon, a Division II school from nearby Phoenix.
“I played against a lot of these guys in high school and some of them are friends,” Wallace said. “I have a high school teammate on their team (forward Justin Wesolowski). He was our four-man in high school. He’s one of my good friends. It’s exciting to come back out and play against those guys. Last year I had to sit and watch.”
Grand Canyon returns four starters from a 14-12 squad that finished fourth in the Pacific West Conference last season. The Antelopes, coached by former Arizona coach Russ Pennell, lost to UNLV, 90-66, last year but have been competitive in a pair of exhibition losses to Pac-12 teams, Oregon (82-75) and Arizona State (89-69), this season. Grand Canyon also defeated San Diego Christian, 83-59, on Tuesday.
“We know they’re a solid team and that we’re going to have to come out and play well,” Wallace said. “I think Washburn showed that when they came in. If we’re not ready to go and playing good basketball, then we’re going to be in trouble.”
REBEL NOTES: UNLV will have just seven scholarship players available for tonight’s game as starting forward Chase Stanback (summer DUI arrest) and starting guard Anthony Marshall (summer league game violation) both sit out the game because of suspensions. Forward Carlos Lopez, who came off the bench to score 11 second half points in the Washburn victory, also is out with a high ankle sprain. … Rice said there is a chance Lopez could be back for Monday night’s in-state showdown with Nevada. “He has a high pain threshold,” Rice said. … The Rebels will go with a starting lineup of Oscar Bellfield, Justin Hawkins, Wallace, Mike Moser and Brice Massamba with swingman Karam Mashour and forward Quintrell Thomas coming off the bench. Three walk-ons — guards Barry Cheaney and Wade Norman and center Bryan Glenn — are also available.