Any worries about UNLV experiencing a flat spot against Southern Utah after Tuesday’s big 71-67 upset of No. 3 Arizona proved to be unfounded Saturday night at the Thomas & Mack Center.
Other than for a short stretch at the end of the first half, the Runnin’ Rebels (9-3) took care of business in convincing fashion, rolling to a 79-45 victory.
Christian Wood, despite battling the stomach flu, finished with 22 points on 9-of-12 shooting, grabbed a game-high 14 rebounds and blocked five shots while Rashad Vaughn also scored 22 points, including 5-of-8 3-pointers, to lead UNLV, which opened the second half with a 21-1 run after leading 36-28 at halftime.
The Rebels held Southern Utah (3-8) to just 25.4 percent shooting, finished with a 50-32 rebounding edge and had nine blocks despite playing without star shot-blocker Goodluck Okonoboh (knee).
Not a bad final tune-up heading into Wednesday night’s Mountain West Conference opener at Wyoming (11-2).
“I feel the conference is wide open,” Vaughn, who connected on three consecutive 3-pointers over a two-minute span in the second half, said. “We’ve just got to take it.”
(CHECK OUT BARRY WONG’S FIRST HALF VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS)
UNLV coach Dave Rice admitted he was concerned his young squad might experience a letdown. But Rice said those fears vanished after watching his team’s practice on Friday and shoot-around on Saturday.
“I very much liked our team’s response,” Rice said. “Other than the last four minutes of the first half (when UNLV was outscored 7-0), I thought we responded very well.”
He credited the senior leadership of senior swingman Jelan Kendrick, who scored just two points but filled up the stat sheet with 11 rebounds, seven assists and three steals, and point guard Cody Doolin (team-best plus-37 plus-minus ranking) for keeping his team focused.
“That’s kind of the epitome of what we want our program to be about,” Rice said of Kendrick’s performance. “Just guys who don’t worry about anything other than figuring out a way to win.”
“I definitely believe in this team,” Kendrick said. “We still have a lot of growing to do. I believe that we can get there.”
The one negative Saturday was the absence of Okonoboh, who appeared to tweak his right knee late in the first half of the Arizona win and didn’t suit up on Saturday.
“I was told (by team trainers) that he couldn’t go,” Rice said. “I will hope and say my prayers tonight that we can get him back.”