As UNLV continues to struggle to find consistent scorers, junior guard Amauri Hardy is the one player who has stepped up on a regular basis.
And he is the player who often finds the basketball in his hands at crucial times as he shares the point guard position with senior Elijah Mitrou-Long.
That was the case in Monday’s 72-58 victory over Abilene Christian. Hardy not only led the Rebels with 25 points — making 9 of 10 shots that included 3 of 4 from 3-point range — but he made some critical plays.
He ended an 11-point run by the Wildcats by making a layup to extend UNLV’s lead to 50-47 with 10:24 left. And Hardy scored nine points as the Rebels ended the game by breaking a tie at 50 and outscoring Abilene Christian 22-8.
“I think it happens pretty much naturally for me,” Hardy said of producing in such moments. “I either try to get an assist, (or) I try to get a bucket going downhill.”
Entering Wednesday’s 7 p.m. game against Texas State (3-2) at the Thomas & Mack Center, Hardy leads the Rebels (2-3) with 19 points per game. Mitrou-Long is next with a 12.6 average, and Donnie Tillman at 12.4 is the only other player averaging in double figures.
Hardy also is UNLV’s most efficient player. He is shooting 48.1 percent, second among the starters to post player Mbacke Diong’s 60.9 percent that comes almost exclusively on layups and dunks. Hardy is making 41.9 percent of his 3-point attempts, and the next highest are Tillman and Jonah Antonio at 35.7 each.
“He’s been the heart of our team,” UNLV coach T.J. Otzelberger said. “Even some of the games it’s been more volume on shooting, I don’t necessarily attribute that as much to him as us needing better movement on offense.
“He wants to win. I’ve seen his leadership continue to grow every day, and I think he’s prepared himself for that (clutch) moment.”
Hardy is a holdover from coach Marvin Menzies’ staff, and he looked seriously at leaving when the coaching change was made in March by putting his name in the NCAA transfer portal.
By committing to stay with UNLV and play for Otzelberger, Hardy has shown what he means to the coach and the program.
“Coach T.J. has a great philosophy for his offense and how he puts guys in great position,” Hardy said. “I think he’s done a great job of that with me.”
Otzelberger has shown a trust in Hardy by often putting the ball in his hands, especially in key moments.
That doesn’t mean, however, Hardy is the only player Otzelberger will look to make plays as the season progresses. He pointed to key plays that Mitrou-Long also made in the final minutes that helped the Rebels pull away from Abilene Christian.
“We’re fortunate to have two guys to put the ball in their hands,” Otzelberger said. “Depending on the game and the situation will depend on who’s number we call.”
Who: UNLV vs. Texas State
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Thomas & Mack Center
TV/Radio: UNLVRebels.com (online stream); KWWN (1100 AM, 100.9 FM)
Line: UNLV -4½; total 130½
Texas State (3-2)
Coach: Danny Kaspar (101-100, seventh season)
Coach: T.J. Otzelberger (2-3, first season)