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December 5, 2012

A look back at Portland

BALL HAWK - The road is a special place for collegiate teams because you find out a whole heck of a lot about the players in the program and who the leaders are.

It doesn't hurt to have some senior leadership on your roster, either.

Justin Hawkins proved that to be true on Tuesday night during the UNLV Runnin' Rebels first road environment of the season. Hawkins poured in 15 second half points, including four three-pointers, to lead the Rebels past the Portland Pilots, 68-60.

This wasn't the first time that one of Hawkins' performances helped pave the way to victory, but this one couldn't have come at a better time. A loss to Portland, with or without Mike Moser, would have made a huge blemish on the Rebels' resume come March.

Thankfully, UNLV doesn't have to worry about that, and much of that has to do with Hawkins.

Dealing with an anemic offense all evening, which included an 11 minute spell in which only freshman sensation Anthony Bennett scored a field goal, Hawkins stepped up and delivered like you expect from your seniors.

UNLV went into the halftime break trailing by six and that number quickly crept to near double-digits a few minutes into the second half. It was looking bleak and the way guards Katin Reinhardt and Bryce Dejean-Jones were misfiring (a combined 2-of-19 and 0-10 from beyond the arc) it looked like it was just going to be one of those nights.

But the bright light came by the way of Hawkins, who hit consecutive 3-pointers, to give UNLV a bit of breathing room. The Rebels, who were losing by nine with 16 minutes left, were actually leading by eight before the 10 minute mark after the second Hawkins' trey in a row.

In what was one of the most forgettable games in a long time for Rebel fans, Hawkins proved that he's up for the challenges ahead. You can't teach that. It's learned over the long haul.

MR. CONSISTENT - Freshman seasons typically are a rollercoaster ride of one spectacular game or moment followed by some bonehead decisions or cold shooting nights.

Bennett is the exception to that rule. He is an absolute rock every time he goes out on the court. You can go ahead and pencil him in for between 18-22 points and 6-8 rebounds every single night.

He isn't getting any favors from opposing coaches, either. You can tell he is the focal point of the scouting report on the Rebels offense. Teams have doubled the post before he even gets an entry pass to limit his touches. It doesn't matter. He'll just float around on the perimeter or set a screen and try and free himself from a defender.

Another area of consistency is the rate in which he shoots foul shots. In all but two games, Bennett has attempted at least seven free throws. That's a great sign of his activity around the rim.

MISSING MOSER - This game was scheduled as the "Mike Moser game" when Rice decided to head to Portland and compete against a Pilots squad that is, at least, formidable in their home arena.

So, it was a definite shame that Moser was unable to suit up in front of his friends and family. There was a hope that this game would be the one to jumpstart his offense some and get him feeling confident in his shot.

Through the first six games that Moser has played, he's shooting a rough 39% from the field and 17% from beyond the arc. Those aren't exactly leave early for the NBA type of numbers.

To his credit, Moser has done a good job of doing plenty of other things on the floor to help the Rebels win, but, at some point, he has to get his offensive game into full gear. Portland would've been a great place for him to get started down that path.

Now, the Rebels have to wait and see if he will be healthy enough to give it a go in a far more difficult gym on Sunday, Haas Arena, when UNLV travels to play California in a revenge game from last year which the Rebels played, quite possibly, their best game of the season.

If Moser isn't good enough to go against the Golden Bears, he should almost certainly be held out until UNLV heads to UTEP. A game against La Verne at the Orleans Arena shouldn't be too much of a worry. Getting Moser feeling good and playing a high level is the biggest concern at the moment.

WHAT LIES AHEAD - With two tough road trips coming up in the next three games, you have to hope that the Rebels got their road jitters out of the way last evening. In fact, it's hard to fathom UNLV playing any worse than it did for the first 25 minutes versus the Pilots.

There has to be some correction made to the offense that looked so sluggish. There was no rhythm or purpose for many of the Rebels, especially in that first half. It looked like a pick-up game the majority of the time.

UNLV, despite earning wins, isn't close to playing its best basketball at this juncture. One good half is followed by a very poor one. One poor half proceeds a strong one. And so it goes.

Finding a way to play a complete 40 minutes looks like it's going to be head coach Dave Rice's biggest obstacle with this bunch. The concern is that if this trend continues it is going to be a very disappointing season.

Sunday's game against Cal should be a very good indicator of where UNLV is headed. The Rebels have had enough wake-up calls. It's time to move past that.

For more in-depth and insider information, be sure to check out Rebel Confidential.



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