UNLV fans came out to the Thomas & Mack Center like they hadn’t in more than a year, and they hoped to see a show.
But it wasn’t the kind of show Rebels fans wanted.
UNR quickly showed why it is ranked No. 8 in the country and has the ability to follow up last year’s Sweet 16 appearance in the NCAA Tournament with another deep run. The Wolf Pack used their superior size to blast the Rebels 87-70 before about 12,000 fans.
You have to give UNR credit,” UNLV coach Marvin Menzies said. “They played like men. They played like they are. They played experienced and used their athleticism. I don’t know how many dunks they had or how many threes they hit, but they definitely looked like the No. 8 team in the country. Our guys, we’re not there yet, and that was evident by the way the game started.”
UNLV also suffered injury to its frontcourt when Joel Ntambwe went down in the second half.
“He was trying to push through it, but he was just a shell of himself after that,” Menzies said. “I’ll wait to see what the doctors say, but they’re in there looking at him. I don’t know if it was a bruise or hip, or I don’t know what it was. He was obviously not himself.”
By halftime, UNR (20-1, 7-1 Mountain West) held a 22-point lead, leaving the only drama as to whether UNLV (11-9, 5-3) would keep its record 3-point streak alive after going 0 for 12 in the first 20 minutes. Ntambwe ended the suspense 2½ minutes into the second half to extend the streak to 1,059 games.
“In the first half, we forced a couple shots,” UNLV guard Kris Clyburn said. “Knowing that they had length, we had to move the ball. We had a lack of that in the first half, so that’s something we need to work on and get better at.”
It was one of the biggest moments of the night for the fans to cheer, and the only one that was truly basketball related. The fans gave loud ovations to the football team and the Fremont Cannon, which was rolled onto the floor, and to the national champion dance and cheer squads.
UNLV’s basketball program gave the fans little reason to get excited, and now it’s anyone’s guess how long it will be before this kind of crowd shows up again. The last crowd of this size to attend was for when Arizona visited early last season.
UNR’s size bothered the Rebels, causing them to rush shots that included missing all those 3-pointers in the first half. UNLV entered the game as the conference’s best 3-point shooting team, having made 41.9 percent against league opponents. They finished 7 of 26 against the Wolf Pack.
On the other end, the Wolf Pack pounded the ball inside early with 10 of their first 12 points coming down low. That success helped open up their perimeter game.
“They threw the first punch, and it was hard to recover,” Clyburn said. “That’s one of the things that we’ve got to take forward going into these next couple games.”
The Rebels are on the road the next two games — Saturday at Utah State and Feb. 6 at Boise State.
Caleb Martin led the Wolf Pack with 26 points on 7-of-12 shooting. Jordan Caroline added 18 points and 10 rebounds.
Though UNLV shot 36.8 percent, Clyburn played a strong game, finishing with team highs of 23 points and eight rebounds. Amauri Hardy added 17 points.
1. There is some hope for UNLV. UNR’s top three players — Jordan Caroline and twins Caleb and Martin — are all seniors. Not that the Wolf Pack will suddenly become a .500 team next season, but they won’t be this good. That, of course, is little comfort for UNLV fans this season, who can only cringe at the thought of the state’s elite basketball program residing in the north.
2. Nick Blair was rewarded. Well, he was more than rewarded because putting the 6-foot-5-inch forward in the starting lineup showed that Menzies believed the only path to victory was beating taller UNR with speed.
3. Getting help in the middle. Mbacke Diong returned after missed the previous four games with a sprained ankle, and his presence is badly needed going forward. At 6-11, Diong provides the size that UNLV otherwise lacks.