by Jake Runyon (@jakerunyon)
Who hasn’t seen Miracle on 34th street? The beloved Christmas classic where Santa Clause gets put on trial being accused of being a fraud, but his savvy attorney proves that he really is Santa Clause by convincing the jury that he isn’t not Santa Clause.
Segway into to UNLV Basketball…..
Tonight UNLV proved that they aren’t not a great team.
Up until tonight, there have been a lot of naysayers about this program and this team. In some ways it felt similar to last year’s team all over again. Too much inexperience, and not enough coaching. It has been the same song and dance for Dave Rice now for 3 years but tonight, even if it may be short-lived, there is no criticism stirring, not even a mouse (Another Christmas reference!)
In case you live under a rock, and don’t know what I’m talking about:
UNLV upset #3 Arizona tonight. The Thomas & Mack Center was loud, and to my surprise, relatively full of UNLV support.
The game got off to fast-paced start. Both teams played wanted to get out and run on offense. The Wildcats were able to grab an early lead, but credit UNLV for never letting UofA get out of reach. When they needed a basket, they got a basket… When they needed a stop, they got a stop.
In the second half both teams traded blows to start. The message at halftime appeared to be the same for both teams… Feed the post.
UNLV switched to a zone, and with the length of Vaughn, McCaw and Kendrick, Arizona wasn’t able to get very many clean looks.
Christian Wood and Rashad Vaughn were in attack mode offensively. They weren’t afraid to put the ball on the floor and attack the rim. It paid off, as the two players combined for 27 points in the second half.
When the dust settled, UNLV walked away the victors; handing Arizona their first non-conference regular season loss since 2011. Recap and highlights here.
-Jordan Cornish plays a very important role on this team. He is the dude that dances in the players huddle right before the game. A very understated role, but an important one nonetheless. Not to mention, his hard foul, and stare down rattled Stanley Johnson. The play resulted in a double-technical foul. We can’t know for sure, but that play may have been the most important play of the night. Cornish set the tone, and was able to get a reaction out of Arizona’s elite freshman.
-I don’t know who gave Patrick McCaw his nickname, but whoever did, deserves some sort of prize. “Inspector Gadget” continued to be UNLV’s “do it all” reserve off the bench. 13 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 assists. If you count his swarming defense, it really is becoming clear why he is quickly becoming a UNLV fan favorite.
-Christian Wood has been scapegoat lately for UNLV. Fans seem to love to criticize him, but they only do that because they see so much potential in him. Tonight he met those lofty expectations of him.
-Speaking of Christian Wood. He spent most the evening matched up against his former Findlay Prep teammate, Brandon Ashley. Remember how skinny Christian was as an in-coming freshman last year? Look at him this year… He is bigger than Ashley. Jason Kabo deserves a Christmas bonus.
-Cody Doolin had rough night, but before we throw him to the wolves like UNLV fans tend to do from time to time, lets remind ourselves that Arizona is a great defensive team who loves to put pressure on the ball handler. Even when he isn’t playing well, he still seems to be a key leader for UNLV.
-Stanley Johnson vs Rashad Vaughn. Both players were the most highly sought players from the west coast. They ranked Johnson ahead of Vaughn, and I have slightest feeling that maybe Vaughn remembered, and didn’t like that. If you were an NBA scout, and tonight was your only body of work in observing the two future-NBA talents, you walked away talking about Vaughn, not Johnson. Not only did Johnson go 3/11 from the field, but he also turned the ball over on Arizona’s final possession, down by 2 points. Not clutch Stanley. Classic Mater Dei.
-The dreaded “elbow rule” worked in favor of UNLV tonight. In the second half, Kaleb Tarczewski pulled down a rebound, and in an effort to create space for himself, swung his elbow across his body, hitting Dwayne Morgan hard in the face. While this rule is a stupid rule in my opinion, it was called correctly by the refs and resulted in two free throws for the Rebels, along with possession of the ball. That was a big turning point in the game.
-Anyone who thinks there were some controversial non-calls by the refs late in the game needs to hush. Watch the video of the alleged goaltend. I don’t think Kendrick touched the rim, let alone the ball. According to NCAA rules, a goaltending is only when a player touches the ball while it is in or above the cylinder, or if they create contact with the rim or backboard causing it to move. See for yourself.
There is also some people saying that UNLV should have been given a techinical foul with .7 seconds left when Johnson turned the ball over, and then fouled McCaw. With time still on the clock some fans apparently had entered the floor (I didn’t see it), and some UNLV players were on the floor. (This i did see). I have three guesses as to why a technical foul was not called. 1). Nobody prematurely rushed the court. 2). Play was dead. No harm, no foul. 3). It is a stupid rule that should only come into effect if it has an actual impact on a live play.
-Dave Rice did a good job coaching this game. I don’t know what he has done different lately, but the energy from the Rebels since late in the Portland game has been amazing. It seems the Rebels have finally found an identity. Something that has been missing for UNLV for more than a season.
UNLV faces Southern Utah this upcoming saturday before opening conference play at Wyoming on New Years Eve. (Does the MWC think they’re funny or something sending UNLV to Laramie on NYE?)
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a goodnight.