INSIDER TRADING - It doesn't take a genius to figure out that the strategy of the UNLV Runnin' Rebels offensive attack has taken a new course.
Since dropping its first game of the year on Friday against Oregon, in which UNLV shot 30 3-pointers and only connected on eight, the Rebels have switched gears and have focused on getting inside the arc and using their elite athletic ability to their advantage.
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In the two games since the defeat, UNLV has shot 30 treys combined on 121 shot attempts, less than one-fourth.
And the Rebels are reaping the dividends of this attack. UNLV shot 35 free throws against Iowa State and followed that up with 35 more free throws last night versus UC Irvine.
Don't think that the emphasis wasn't placed on attacking the paint, either.
"I felt like we are trying to redefine ourselves as a team," Mike Moser said after the Irvine game. "We don't want to be a team that comes out and shoots 30+ threes. We want to be a team that attacks the basket and can grind out games by being the aggressor."
If that's the goal, mission accomplished.
You could see it from the outset against the Anteaters as Moser continually used a pump fake at the top of the key before knifing his way into the lane.
Freshman sensation Anthony Bennett's infatuation with the perimeter has cooled off, as well. After jacking up numerous deep jumpers in the Rebels' exhibition game, Bennett has taken just 11 during the regular season. It's a shot that he can make, but with him being so unstoppable in the paint right now, it almost seems foolish to rely on that part of his game.
Head coach Dave Rice said of Bennett's transformation, "Anthony Bennett is doing such a great job of working on his low post, mid-post game. He's starting to take advantage of his skill level. Yet, he can still stretch the defense."
Bennett followed up saying, "I thought in the first four games that I shot a lot of threes. I want to attack them inside and work my way outside."
That doesn't mean the team, in general, is going to stop firing from the outside. Everyone has the green light, as evidenced by Carlos Lopez-Sosa's firing of three jumpers beyond the arc last night, but they have to do it in the context of the team.
BENNETT STAKES CLAIM - Anyone that had witnessed Bennett play at Findlay Prep over the past couple seasons knew what type of impact the Canadian born power forward would have on any program he went to. What wasn't clear is how fast he would be able to translate his skills to the next level.
Is the first game good enough?
Bennett has been even better than advertised, and that's saying quite a bit. Through five games, he is averaging a team-high 19 points, while chipping in seven boards, two blocks and an assist per game.
Most importantly, he has given the Rebels something they haven't had since Kaspars Kambala was lacing up the sneakers at UNLV - a "go-to" guy that doesn't hang around the perimeter.
Fans love him. His teammates love him. He is everything the Rebels were looking for. You can tell that by just listening to how Moser talks about his new post buddy.
Moser gushed, "He's 6-9. He can bounce it. He can shoot it. If you let him to close to the basket, he'll dunk on your head and flex afterward. He's talented. He's really our go-to guy."
The key part of that quote was the fact that there is no question anymore about who the Rebels "go-to" guy is. It's Bennett.
UNLV has struggled in the past few seasons, really since Curtis Terry graduated, on identifying a particular player for a role that is almost necessary, especially in crunch time. Oscar Bellfield had a shot at it. Chace Stanback struggled with it. Anthony Marshall relished in it but it seemed a bit much for him.
Bennett is perfect for the role. He's big, strong, confident and really freaking good.
Marshall, Moser and Justin Hawkins can continue to lead through their voices and actions, but when the game is on the line it sounds as if Bennett is going to be the one asked to deliver.
MARSHALL COMFORT - You can see it coming for Marshall. The light switch has been flipped and the comfort level is increasing at his new role of being a distributor and facilitator of the Rebel offense.
Last night, Rice couldn't have asked for much more from the senior who has spent the first three years of his UNLV career being asked to score the basketball. Marshall's stat line last night read: nine assists and one turnover.
Forget about everything else, a 9 to 1 assist to turnover ratio is fantastic at any level and against any competition, inferior or not.
You have to give Marshall credit, too. It's asking a lot of a player to completely throw out what they've been successful doing for three years and to play a new style. He has done that and hasn't complained about it at all.
If Marshall continues to buy into this new role, there is no reason why he can't be near the Top 10 in assist average in the next month (Marshall currently resides at No. 46 in the nation with 5.3 per game).
FINDING A NICHE - Speaking of guys that are being asked to play new roles, you can't fail to mention the job that freshman Savon Goodman has done the past two games.
Backing up Bryce Dejean-Jones at the wing position, Goodman has started to look a lot more comfortable after a rough patch during the first three games of the year. In the past two contests, Goodman has accounted for 14 points, nine rebounds, four steals and two blocks in 33 minutes of action.
That's pretty solid production from a role player coming off the bench, especially as a freshman.
Consider in the two games prior to those, Goodman had zero points and two rebounds. He also looked pretty lost in the Oregon matchup.
When asked about Goodman after the game against UCI, Rice mentioned his challenges as being as big as anyone on the roster.
"The thing about Savon that is so special is that his entire career he was a special high school player, but he played inside," Rice said. "This is his first opportunity to play exclusively on the perimeter. So when you think about being five games into his college career, he's making great strides.
"It happens because he's coachable. All he cares about is the team. In the huddle, he looks straight at the coach that's talking. He's doing a tremendous job for us."
Goodman plays with the type of energy and intensity that immediately warms him up to the fans' hearts. It looks like he has a good shot to become a fan-favorite very early in his career.
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