Marshall still learning on the fly

BOISE, Idaho – Three months into his first season as a full-time point guard, Anthony Marshall is developing some skills. One of them is selective hearing.

The UNLV senior’s play has been critiqued from all angles. Sometimes he hears priceless advice and support, and other times he’s the target of critics’ darts.

Marshall is the Rebels’ leader and a key factor in their fateful games of February and March, so how he performs is important to a lot of people.

In that regard, a point guard and a quarterback are not much different.

“People can tell you a thousand things, but it really doesn’t matter until you go through it yourself. You get better with experience,” he said. “I’m kind of learning on the fly.”

He also has become the team’s go-to guy on the Mountain West road.

UNLV (17-4, 4-2) will lean on Marshall to get its offense on track when it faces Boise State (14-6, 2-4) at 6 p.m. today at Taco Bell Arena. The stakes are high for both teams.

The Broncos, off back-to-back blowout losses at Colorado State and UNR, are fading from the NCAA Tournament picture. The Rebels, a game behind first-place New Mexico, can’t afford another slip-up on the road.

“I want to go into this road game and play with a swagger like we play at home,” said Marshall, who will square off with Boise State sophomore Derrick Marks, one of the conference’s top guards. “We’ve got to play with a sense of urgency. It’s going to take a tough group of guys to go there and get a win.”

While ranking at the top of the MW in most key defensive categories, UNLV has lost its offensive flow, scoring just 66, 62 and 61 points in its past three league games.

Freshman forward Anthony Bennett’s production has hit a wall, and junior forward Mike Moser is struggling to contribute any scoring at all. Moser is likely to come off the bench for the second straight game, coach Dave Rice said.

In the Rebels’ past two road games, a loss at Colorado State and win at San Diego State, Marshall shot 17-for-30 from the field and averaged 20.5 points. When things get stagnant offensively, Rice repeatedly has called Marshall’s number, sending him off high screens to make plays on dribble penetration.

“I just play off what the defense dictates. If that allows me to be aggressive to score, then so be it,” Marshall said. “For us to win, I really don’t have to score the ball. I try to keep everybody involved and happy. I think I need to have a balance. I can’t be so passive, and I can’t dominate the ball at point guard. I need to pick and choose when I need to score.”

When a point guard becomes a dominant scorer, a lack of ball movement typically results. At the same time, Marshall has been UNLV’s most effective offensive player in recent weeks.

“Anthony has made great strides as a lead guard,” Rice said. “It’s been a process from the standpoint of he’s always been a scorer.”

The Rebels’ offensive frustrations lead to a familiar refrain – that they’re a team with no true point guard. While there is some truth to that theory, other issues are evident, such as the team’s lack of fast-break production and inability to force opponents into a faster tempo.

“We need to place more of an emphasis on pushing the ball in transition,” Rice said. “We need to get more easy baskets. We don’t do a good enough job of being efficient in transition off of defensive stops. That’s the biggest area of concern for me.

“We do need to continue to improve in terms of our half-court offense. I’m not satisfied.”

Marshall, averaging 10.2 points and a league-high 6.0 assists, is shooting 43.6 percent from 3-point range. He’s a scorer more than a distributor, similar to the NBA point guard he admires most, Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook, a former UCLA shooting guard.

He continues to take pointers from his coaches. However, he has learned to tune out negative comments – briefly disconnecting himself from Twitter after a loss at New Mexico last month – and turn his focus to what he sees on the floor.

“I don’t think about stats or anything like that,” Marshall said. “I’ve got great teammates around me.

“I try to keep things moving and manage the game. No defense is the same and no game is going to be the same.”

■ NOTES – Moser’s 18 points and 21 rebounds led UNLV to a 77-72 overtime win at Boise State last year. … Broncos coach Leon Rice said junior guard Jeff Elorriaga, a versatile team leader, is expected to return from a concussion.

Contact reporter Matt Youmans at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907. Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.

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