Updated January 12, 2021 - 5:39 pm
It took a few minutes for UNLV to figure out what Saint Katherine was doing offensively Tuesday afternoon.
The Firebirds made six of the first nine shots over the first nine minutes, but they added only three more field goals the rest of the game as the Rebels locked down on defense and pulled away.
The 95-34 victory at the Thomas & Mack Center was the most decisive for UNLV since the Rebels defeated New Mexico Highlands 107-45 on Nov. 16, 2015.
It was also one of the most predictable, given that Saint Katherine is an NAIA program and was added to the UNLV schedule only last week, replacing one of two canceled non-conference games in December. The other replacement game will be against Benedictine Mesa, another NAIA school, on Jan. 21.
Mbacke Diong led UNLV with 18 points and 10 rebounds, and David Jenkins and Moses Wood added 17 points apiece.
“Their offense has a little bit of a rhythm to it,” UNLV coach T.J. Otzelberger said of Saint Katherine. “Our guys had to get used to that rhythm and where the screens were coming from, who’s cutting and those kinds of things. It was good for our guys to have to guard it.”
The Rebels (2-6) went on a 28-3 run that included 21 straight points late in the first half to break open what had been an 18-15 game at the 13:44 mark and were never challenged again.
Tuesday’s game ended a 48-day stretch without UNLV having played at home and began a six-game homestand that will include two-game Mountain West series. The first of those begins at 2:30 p.m. Saturday against New Mexico.
“It’s been well over a month since we’ve had a chance to play here,” Otzelberger said. “We’re getting ready to have four home conference games with another game in-between, so this opportunity helped prepare us. We were appreciative to find somebody on such short notice that could come and play.”
Zach Rhodes led Saint Katherine (1-1), an NAIA school from San Marcos, California, with 10 points.
Here are three takeaways from the win.
1. Lockdown defense
After its early success offensively, Saint Katherine couldn’t find the basket. The Firebirds went 3-for-33 from the floor the rest of the way, including 1-for-20 in the second half.
All told, they shot 21.4 percent from the floor, including 2-for-19 from 3-point range, and turned the ball over 18 times. UNLV also dominated on the boards 46-16.
If there was one negative for UNLV, it was that the Rebels fouled the Firebirds 16 times. Saint Katherine took advantage, going 14-for-16 from the free-throw line.
“We’re still fouling a lot more than we need to,” Otzelberger said. “We’ve got to get better because we can’t just put people on the foul line.”
2. Spreading the wealth
Facing an overmatched opponent gives a team a chance to get plenty of players into the game, and UNLV took advantage.
Ten of the 11 Rebels who played scored at least once basket. Nine players logged 16 minutes or more, but nobody played more than Nick Blake’s 26.
“It’s really important to have a lot of people come in and score, but our focus is on the other end of the court,” Diong said. “We can score the ball. We have shooters, we have drivers, we have all that. We just need to be better on defense.”
3. Coleman off COVID list
UNLV was bolstered by the return of point guard Marvin Coleman, who missed last weekend’s Mountain West series against Colorado State after a positive COVID-19 test.
Coleman had six points and six assists without a turnover in his 20 minutes in his first game since Dec. 5 against Kansas State.
“He’s one of the leaders of the team, one of the captains, so it was really great to have him back on the court with us,” Diong said. “He always brings energy and leadership to get guys in the right spot as a point guard.”