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Rebels too busy winning to worry about perception of others

Updated January 23, 2019 - 12:37 am

The journey to a 5-1 start in the Mountain West has been anything but standard for UNLV’s basketball team, because I’m pretty sure Nick Blair just made another 3-pointer.

But it’s true that success comes to those who are too busy to look for it.

The Rebels would qualify as such.

Too busy plugging holes of those injured, too busy watching unknown players make a name for themselves, too busy reinventing a lineup, too busy merely playing the schedule and not fretting about the perception most have of it.

Too busy winning, man.

Too busy outcoaching the socks off of New Mexico, man.

UNLV on Tuesday night knocked off another conference team from distance, and in the process swept the regular-season series from the Lobos for the first time in eight years with a 74-58 victory before an announced gathering of 8,432 at Thomas & Mack Center.

Good teachers might produce the best pupils, but UNLV coach Marvin Menzies twice in the last 14 days was hardly accommodating in this manner to his former assistant at New Mexico State, Paul Weir.

The Rebels won by 11 in Albuquerque and then offered on Tuesday arguably some of the finest 12 minutes under Menzies in this, his third season as Rebels coach.

They turned a six-point deficit into a 12-point halftime lead, because they were really good at both ends.

“I think the biggest thing is just team effort,” said Menzies. “We’re heading in the right direction. It’s a little bittersweet for me going against Paul. Our business is crazy, this profession we have chosen. I know how much losing hurts.”

He hasn’t known much of it in the league thus far this season.

They all play hard. Joel Ntambwe is a freshman who was averaging nearly 13 points but was held to five on 1-of-4 shooting. So he went out and grabbed 11 rebounds and played to a plus-12 and drove for loose balls and blocked a shot and had a steal and kept his motor running for nearly 34 minutes.

UNLV goes through stretches where you’re not really sure when the next basket might come — it started 1-of-10 from the field Tuesday — but its desire remains consistent.

So, as it happened against the Lobos, staying with things across most of six league games have led to spurts where UNLV assumes control.

But more is needed for a banged up team than just hot shooting — although making 39 percent on 3s in league coming in and then hitting 14-for-25 against New Mexico will win you a lot of games.

More as in a kid such as Blair.

Walk-on steps up

It’s no secret that when you lose your best returning player (Shakur Juiston) for the season to injury and your best rim protector (Mbacke Diong) the last three games with a bum ankle and are young and flawed in numerous ways, someone not altogether expected usually needs to play above his head.

Blair is listed at 6-foot-5, but on Tuesday competed as if he tops out a foot taller.

He is a junior walk-on who prepped at Bishop Gorman High, and if someone had told you that at this point in the season against this particular opponent, he would have scored a career-high 26 and made 4-of-6 3s and grabbed six rebounds, you would have paused and waited for the punch line.

Heck, you might have done that had someone told you he was on the court at all.

“It’s a testament to his character,” said senior guard Noah Robotham, who went for 11 points and nine assists. “(Blair) hadn’t played a lot, but he didn’t mope. He’s a mature guy who is playing well and giving us a different type of look, a small ball look. He has seized the opportunity. It would have been easy to feel down and blame others. He didn’t. He did the opposite.”

UNLV’s next five games are at San Diego State, home to UNR, at Utah State, at Boise State and home to Fresno State, the stretch most have forecast as that which will tell us how good the Rebels really are.

Who knows. Predicting how this conference will play out on a nightly basis is tougher than hearing a thing Knights general manager/low talker George McPhee says.

The only thing we know is that UNLV is 5-1 and shooting the you-know-what out of the ball from 3 in conference.

That, and Nick Blair just hit another one to make it 71-53.

And another to make it 74-55.

No punch line forthcoming.

Contact columnist Ed Graney at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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