Great expectations: Rebels open with Northern Arizona tonight

UNLV guard Anthony Marshall has seen and heard all the hype surrounding the 2012-13 Runnin’ Rebels. You know, the ones projecting UNLV as a potential Final Four sleeper team.

But as the Rebels prepare to open their much-anticipated season tonight against Northern Arizona at what figures to be a sold-out Thomas & Mack Center, the senior from Mojave High School, affectionately known as “The Mayor of Lob Vegas,” says his team is taking a very simplistic approach.

“We just want to go in and compete in every game,” Marshall said. “We feel like that we have a good chance of winning every game we go into by the way we practice. We practice pretty hard. They say you play how you practice, so we just get after it in practice and try and translate that into the game – not taking one possession off, because if you do, that one possession could ultimately be a game-changer.”

Yes, but what about all those lofty preseason predictions for the Rebels, who begin the season ranked 18th by the Associated Press and 19th in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches’ Poll?

“It’s nice to be acknowledged but you can’t let that go to your head,” Marshall said. “We really haven’t proven anything yet. No team has won a championship by (seeing) their names on (a piece of) paper. … You just have to stay level-headed.”

Marshall says the team got a wakeup call in its 81-80 overtime victory over Dixie State, a Division II school, last Wednesday night at the Thomas & Mack. The Rebels had to overcome a seven-point deficit in overtime to pull out the victory. Marshall orchestrated the game-winning basket, driving off a Quintrell Thomas screen at the top of the key and through a trio of Dixie defenders to hit Carlos Lopez-Sosa slicing along the baseline for a layup with six seconds to go. (That play can be seen in video above).

“Definitely (a wakeup call),” Marshall said. “We’re coming in (ranked in the) Top 25 and you have a target on your back every game.”

Marshall will start at point guard in tonight’s opener in a backcourt that will also include senior Justin Hawkins and freshman sharpshooter Katin Reinhardt. Junior first team all-Mountain West pick Mike Moser and 2012 McDonald’s All-American Anthony Bennett of nearby Findlay Prep High will start at forward.

Northern Arizona (0-1), which returns three starters from a squad that finished 5-24 last season, looks to be much improved this year. The Lumberjacks gave a good Oregon team all it could handle in its season opener on Saturday in Eugene, taking a 67-66 lead with 5:44 remaining on a 3-pointer by swingman Blake Hamilton. But the Ducks, expected to challenge for the Pac-12 title this year, closed the game with a 17-6 run and won, 83-73.

GAME NOTES: Fewer than 500 tickets for the game remained this morning. … UNLV is 43-11 all-time in season openers including 35-5 at home. The Rebels have won 16 of their last 17 season openers with the only burp a 2004 home loss to Saint Mary’s. … NAU head coach Jack Murphy is the son-in-law of UNLV AD Jim Livengood. … UNLV has won its last 18 regular season games at the Thomas & Mack, including a perfect 16-0 last year, its first undefeated home regular season in 20 years. … The Rebels enter the season opener having hit a 3-point basket in an NCAA Division I record 840 consecutive games, or every game the Rebels have played since the NCAA adopted the 3-point field goal in 1986-87.

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