WICHITA, Kan. — At a time when some players might feel mental or physical fatigue, UNLV sophomore Mike Moser is charged and running at full power.
After eight games in the season’s first 20 days, including an emotional upset of the nation’s No. 1 team followed by a dramatic double-overtime win on the road, the Rebels traveled from the California coast to south-central Kansas.
“I’m young, I’m 21, and I feel really good right now,” Moser said. “I think we’re all surprised about how good we feel.”
Partly because of a hectic schedule and a tough road trip, 18th-ranked UNLV (8-0) is a small underdog against Wichita State (4-2) at 1 p.m. today at Koch Arena. The game is part of the Mountain West-Missouri Valley Challenge and will be televised by Cox Cable (96).
In their first road game on Wednesday, the Rebels were pushed to the limit and needed two overtimes to get by UC Santa Barbara, 94-88.
“It’s definitely going to be beneficial for us because we’re going to play in hostile environments like that and probably even worse for this next game against Wichita,” senior forward Chace Stanback said.
UNLV coach Dave Rice worked a combined 92 minutes out of his starting guards, with Oscar Bellfield playing 47 and Anthony Marshall 45, while center Brice Massamba (38), Stanback (37) and Moser (36) also punched the clock for taxing minutes.
“I played our guys too many minutes in the second half, and I will do a better job,” Rice said. “That’s my responsibility to get those guys more of a rest so they’re strong to finish the game. We’ve played a lot of games in a short amount of time, and so we’ve to make sure that we’ve got our legs and we get our rest.”
Rice called off a scheduled workout Thursday. The Rebels practiced Friday before catching an evening flight to Wichita, where they practiced late Saturday afternoon.
Moser credits the team’s more demanding offseason strength and conditioning program for the players’ better durability.
“I am concerned, just because of the number of games we’ve played and the number of minutes we’ve played,” Rice said. “One of the strengths of this team is our depth, and I have unbelievable confidence in the guys we’re bringing off the bench. We’ll be ready to go.”
Junior guard Justin Hawkins has been used regularly off the bench, and Rice said he plans to find more minutes for reserves Carlos Lopez, Quintrell Thomas and Kendall Wallace when possible.
But Wichita State in no way represents a rest stop on the road. The Shockers are led by two seniors, guard Toure Murry and 7-foot center Garett Stutz, and they finished 29-9 last season after winning the National Invitation Tournament.
Wichita State lost to Alabama (70-60) and Temple (78-74 in overtime) in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off tournament before Thanksgiving and defeated Cal State Fullerton 75-60 on Thursday.
The scouting report the Shockers put together on UNLV likely will include a note about Moser’s ability to hit 3-point shots.
After hitting just 2 of 17 3-pointers through seven games, Moser made 6 of 9 to carry the Rebels to the win over UCSB.
“It’s interesting because the only criticism I had heard the first six games was that Mike needs to improve as an outside shooter. But then he hits two against North Carolina and he hits six against Santa Barbara,” Rice said. “Mike is one of those guys who is up for about any challenge. He works really hard on his shooting.”
Moser and Stanback, transfers from UCLA two years apart, are developing a symmetry similar to what Bellfield and Marshall enjoy in the backcourt.
In the victories over North Carolina and UCSB, Moser averaged 25 points and 14 rebounds, and Stanback averaged 23.5 points and eight rebounds.
“I definitely feel a sense of chemistry between me and Mike on the court,” Stanback said. “I know what he’s going to do and what he’s capable of, and he knows what I can do and what I’m capable of, so there’s good chemistry there. But I feel like the whole team has that type of chemistry.”
Despite UNLV’s early success and national recognition, Moser said no attitude adjustment is in order.
“I wouldn’t say that as a team we’re very high on ourselves right now, just because we can look at those wins and still pick out about 1,000 mistakes,” Moser said. “It’s about coming to play. We’ve got to go beat the team in front of us. It’s always about the next game.”
Contact reporter Matt Youmans at email@example.com or 702-387-2907.UNLV VS. WICHITA STATE
■ WHEN: 1 p.m. today
■ WHERE: Koch Arena, Wichita, Kan.
■ TV/RADIO: Cox (96), KWWN (1100 AM, 98.9 FM)
■ LINE: Wichita State -2; total 138