UNLV coach Dave Rice said one of the goals for his team heading into Wednesday night’s game with Boise State was “to get our swagger back.”
The 21st-ranked Runnin’ Rebels (23-6, 7-4) not only found that swagger, but also their shooting touch to go along with some pretty impressive trapping defense.
The result was a one-sided 75-58 victory over the Broncos (13-13, 3-8) before a crowd of 14,409 at the Thomas & Mack Center.
The win kept UNLV in a tie for second place in the Mountain West with San Diego State, a 67-58 overtime winner over Wyoming, just one game behind New Mexico with three games to go.
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Senior forward Chace Stanback, despite still being bothered by a sore right knee, led the way with a game-high 19 points, including 4-of-6 3-pointers, while 6-foot-10 senior center Brice Massamba established the inside game early en route to a career-high 14 points.
“Brice Massamba continues to be the unsung hero of our team,” Rice said. “We play much better offense when we play through him.”
Stanback, who had scored five points or less in four of his previous six games, came out blazing in this one, scoring 11 of UNLV’s first 24 points including a pair of 3-pointers, as the Rebels built up an early 14-point lead (32-18) and never looked back.
“I’m always trying to get off to a quick start, and so are my teammates,” Stanback said. “We’re always trying to get off to a quick start as a team. I was fortunate to knock down some early shots for my team.”
Stanback admitted that the knee is still bothering him, which may explain his recent slump.
“Sometimes,” he said when asked if he thought about the knee at all during the game. “But you can’t really think about it too much.”
“I can’t say enough about the job Chace has done,” Rice said. “He gave us a big lift with the way he shot the ball. When he scores like that, it gives us a lot of confidence.”
The Rebels also got a second straight double-double from junior guard Anthony Marshall (11 points, game-high 10 rebounds) while junior guard Justin Hawkins snapped out of his shooting slump in a big way with 13 points, including 4-of-8 3-pointers.
Hawkins, who had made just one 3-pointer in 11 attempts in his previous five games combined, nailed back-to-back treys midway through the second half to cap a 7-0 run that extended UNLV’s lead to 18 points, 58-40.
“I was just happy to be able to hit consecutive 3s like that,” Hawkins said. “It’s been awhile since I was able to shoot the ball well.”
The Rebels led by as many as 23 points (66-43) before Rice emptied his bench.
“It started with our defense as it usually does,” Rice said.
The Rebels, who barely escaped Boise with a 77-72 overtime win on Jan. 25, forced 14 turnovers while holding the Broncos to just 35.7 percent shooting. Not one Boise State player scored in double figures.
Lanky 6-foot-8 sophomore forward Mike Moser (6 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists) also played a key role defensively as the Rebels kept the Broncos off-balanced with a number of traps.
“The way we felt we could get our swagger back was to get back to playing like we can on the defensive end,” Rice said. “Some traps on their ball screens, trap their handoffs. We just wanted to get out and go.”
That the Rebels did. UNLV, which had 10 steals, finished with a 21-2 edge in fast break points.
“That’s playing Runnin’ Rebel basketball,” Marshall said. “Really getting out there and defending like crazy, dictating what the offense can do.”