For about seven minutes Wednesday night, it seemed like the good old days of UNLV basketball.
Jerry Tarkanian was seated courtside right near that other Las Vegas legend, Chumlee of Pawn Stars fame. The Rebels were runnin’ and gunnin’ to a 22-1 lead. And the announced crowd of 10,253 was enjoying itself.
So what if the opponent was Florida National, a team with a Smurfish front line straight out of your local rec league. The 100-65 victory over the Conquistadors was certainly much more uplifting for UNLV fans than last year’s exhibition opener, a stunning 71-70 loss to Dixie State.
“It’s good,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said of the victory. “You can’t compare exhibition to exhibition.”
Christian Wood, a 6-foot-11, 220-pound sophomore center who enjoyed about a six-inch height advantage over the tallest Florida National player, scored 23 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and had four blocks to lead UNLV, which finished with a 52-14 advantage in points in the paint and a 24-0 edge in fast break points.
The Rebels had five other players finish in double figures led by freshman guard Rashard Vaughn (16 points, 6 rebounds) and freshman forward Dwayne Morgan (13 points, 14 rebounds). Cody Doolin, the highly-touted point guard transfer from USF, had nine assists in 21 minutes while sophomore guard Kendall Smith just missed a double-double with 12 points and nine rebounds.
“I thought Cody Doolin’s leadership tonight was phenomenal,” Rice said.
Jelan Kendrick and freshman Patrick McCaw each added 11 points for the Rebels, who only outscored the Conquistadors, 44-38, in the second half when they seemed content to settle for quick 3-point attempts instead of using their huge size advantage inside. The Rebels finished 7-of-26 (26.9 percent) behind the arc.
“I had to call a couple timeouts in the second half to motivate our guys to play,” Rice said.
“We still have a ways to go. We know that. The thing we really need to work on moving forward is sustaining effort. I thought we did a good job of sharing the ball. Obviously shot selection is always an issue early in the season. … I think there’s no doubt there were times we settled for too many outside shots.”
The Rebels have one more closed door, top-secret scrimmage on Saturday at UCLA before opening the regular season at home on Nov. 14 against Morehead State. The Eagles, led by 13 points and 19 rebounds by former Rebel Karam Mashour, opened their season with a 80-61 exhibition win over St. Catherine (Ky.) on Wednesday.
PHOTO BY JEREMY RINCON