SAN DIEGO — When a team wins a game like UNLV did on Wednesday night, going into the most hostile of venues and out-toughing a hated rival in the final minutes, the old cliche is true — it really was a team effort. It’s hard to single out individuals for recognition, but hey, that’s my job.
So in the aftermath of the Rebels’ triumphant 82-75 win over San Diego State, I give you the Ups and Downs.
Birch’s final stat line from Wednesday’s win over San Diego State looks good enough — 12 points, five rebounds, five blocks — but what doesn’t show up in the box score is the lineup flexibility he gave the Rebels. Birch’s length, range and power allowed Dave Rice to surround him with four guards down the stretch, and that’s the lineup that carried UNLV home. And while his defense was extremely valuable, he also chipped in at the offensive end, shooting 6-of-10 from the field and only committing one turnover (which is sometimes a problem area for him). Birch played 27 minutes and the Rebels were plus-8 while he was on the floor.
When the Rebels hit their inevitable cold stretch against SDSU, going scoreless for almost six minutes midway through the second half, Marshall was the guy who grabbed the team by the lapels and shook some sense into them. He careened into the lane, finished at the rim and got the offense back on track before it was too late and another winnable road game slipped away. That’s the type of leadership we want to see from Marshall.
The “Ups” section is usually reserved for players, but I’m making an exception for the coaching job Rice did on Wednesday. Do you realize that in the biggest game of the season to date, he kept his two biggest stars on the bench during crunch time? Mike Moser didn’t play in the final seven minutes, and Anthony Bennett sat out the final 3:43 while Rice went small and opted for Khem Birch as the lone big man. Imagine the reaction if the move had backfired, SDSU had gone on a run and won the game going away — Rice would be explaining that one for a very long time. But the reasoning behind the strategy was solid, and Rice stuck with it. He deserves this spot.
Mike Moser at small forward
Moser was effective at small forward against Air Force, but he looked uncomfortable matching up against San Diego State swingman Jamaal Franklin. Moser produced — nine points and seven rebounds in 18 minutes isn’t so bad — but the Rebels had trouble hiding him on defense. On one play, Franklin got Moser into the air with a pump fake, then flew by him for a loud tomahawk dunk (en route to a game-high 27 points). Now, Moser’s not going to be matching up with players of Franklin’s caliber every night, but this game was a reminder that Moser’s transition to small forward is still a work in progress.
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