Role players rarely do interviews, because those are mostly for the stars. Early in the season, UNLV freshman Patrick McCaw mentioned he was hesitant to speak to the media.
“I’m kind of a quiet guy,” he said Tuesday. “I really don’t talk that much.”
Now, he’s playing more, talking more and beginning to warm up to all of his expanded roles. In the past week, McCaw has become a starter and a more willing team spokesman.
The 6-foot-6-inch guard is stepping into the spotlight right when the Rebels need him.
“From November to now, I’m getting a better feel for the college game, and it’s coming easier to me,” McCaw said. “I’m starting to get used to it.”
Losing is not something he wants to get used to, and UNLV (10-8, 1-4 Mountain West) is looking to kick that habit as it prepares to host New Mexico (12-6, 4-2) at 8 p.m. today at the Thomas &Mack Center.
The Rebels, losers of five of their past six games, need to find a boost, and coach Dave Rice is counting on McCaw to provide it. It took two months for McCaw to get a promotion to the starting lineup, and now he’s there to stay.
“I just really like what I see in his future,” Rice said, “and our future is very bright with him in our program.”
In McCaw’s second career start — his first came in an insignificant game against Saint Katherine on Dec. 5 — he was UNLV’s best player on both ends of the floor Saturday. He totaled 15 points, six rebounds and three steals in 37 minutes in a 53-47 setback at San Diego State.
In the previous game, an overtime loss at Boise State, McCaw had 17 points and four assists in 36 minutes.
In need of a lineup shake-up, Rice called on McCaw to replace senior guard Jelan Kendrick, who has been inconsistent on both ends of the floor for most of the season. McCaw’s hustle and playmaking ability have turned him into an obvious fan favorite.
“I was just happy to be starting, but it’s not really a big deal for me,” said McCaw, who made 7 of 13 3-pointers in two games last week and is averaging 8.2 points in 18 games. “I just really love to play the game of basketball. I’m glad the fans are happy that I’m in the starting lineup.
“But I’m just thinking about New Mexico. It’s a tough game at home. We need to get back on the winning track.”
McCaw scored 12 points in the first half to put the Rebels in position to beat the Aztecs. He pushed the ball and handled San Diego State’s full-court pressure while playing three positions on offense and coming up with key defensive plays.
“For that to be his first start against a Division I team on the road in a hostile environment, he played great basketball,” Rice said. “Patrick is versatile, plays multiple positions for us and always plays on attack. He’s playing with confidence.”
With sophomore forward Chris Wood in a slump, McCaw has emerged to support leading scorer Rashad Vaughn.
“He’s stepping up. He made a big impact,” Vaughn said. “I’ve been seeing a lot in practice. He’s been more of a leader and more vocal. He definitely can be a big difference-maker for us.”
Vaughn, a 6-6 shooting guard from Findlay Prep, was the most touted of UNLV’s five incoming freshmen. McCaw arrived with little hype.
The son of a high school basketball coach, McCaw grew up in St. Louis and played his senior year at Montrose Christian School in Rockville, Md. He was ranked by ESPN.com as the No. 38 shooting guard in the 2014 class. At a tournament in Las Vegas last year, McCaw was spotted by Rebels assistant Todd Simon, who soon started to recruit him.
The rankings assigned by recruiting analysts are sometimes off the mark, and McCaw, the latest bright spot during a dark time for UNLV, is becoming more proof of that.
Now, he’s talking like a leader.
“I don’t think the team is falling apart at all,” McCaw said. “I think we understand it’s crunch time, it’s the middle of the season and we have goals that we’re trying to achieve. Guys are working hard and pushing each other.
“I think guys are just starting to realize we’re tired of losing, and that’s helping us come together as a team. I think the goals we have as a team, we can still do it.”
■ NOTES — Freshman forward Goodluck Okonoboh, who did not practice Monday and Tuesday because of a foot injury, is questionable to play tonight. Rice said Dwayne Morgan, a freshman forward who has made one start, could take Okonoboh’s spot in the starting lineup. … The Lobos are off a 69-59 home loss to Boise State on Sunday.
Contact reporter Matt Youmans at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2907. Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.
NEW MEXICO vs. UNLV
■ WHEN: 8 p.m. today
■ WHERE: Thomas & Mack Center
■ TV/RADIO: CBSSN (333), KWWN (1100 AM, 100.9 FM)
■ LINE: UNLV -3½