The Cal Bears get to travel to Las Vegas for the hardwood equivalent of a final exam before starting conference play. The #21 UNLV Runnin' Rebels and their up-tempo attack are waiting and ready put a damper on the holidays.
UNLV has already upset the #19 Fighting Illinois on the road, and knocked off the then #1 UNC Tarheels at home. Their only two losses have come against the Wisconsin Badgers on the road, and an inexplicable stinker at Wichita State.
Besides their trademark run n' gun style, UNLV likes to exert defensive pressure and fuel their transition game with forced turnovers. Cue a collective wince from Cal fans everywhere. Worst-case scenario, this could be the Missouri game all over again.
It looks like tough sledding ahead with Richard Solomon out indefinitely with a stress fracture, Jorge Gutierrez recovering from food poisoning, and Harper Kamp getting over a bout with the flu. But, maybe the guys have enough Xmas magic to spike the Rebels' egg nog. (Also, CGB may or may not have sent Jorge a letter informing him that Chipotle's CEO is a huge UNLV fan.)
After the jump, we'll take a closer look at personnel, matchups, and a Q/A with misguided, yet supremely wise UNLV fan and head honcho of Niner's Nation David Fucilio. (Thanks Dave!):
PG Oscar Bellfield(Sr), 6'2, 190 lbs, 10.3 ppg, 4.8 apg
SG Anthony Marshall(Jr), 6'3, 200 lbs, 9ppg, 3 rpg
SF Chace Stanback(Sr), 6'8, 215 lbs, 14.4 ppg, 5 rpg, 45% 3PG
PF Mike Moser(So), 6'8, 210 lbs, 13.6 ppg, 11 ppg
C Brice Massamba(Sr), 6'10, 245 lbs, 5.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg
Bellfield and Stanback were all-conference last year, and have continued their strong play this year as seniors. In particular, Stanback has been playing out of his mind this year. Although he's "only" averaging 14 points/game, he's capable of going off for big numbers on any given night. He had 28 and 10 against North Carolina and recently hit 8/9 from 3 against Louisiana-Monroe.
The rest of their guard rotation is tough and athletic. Marshall is more of a slasher than a deep threat. Hawkins is their designated stopper off the bench, and Wallace is a dangerous 3-point shooter. UCLA-transfer Mike Moser was the top-rated HS player in the state of Oregon and has a multi-dimensional inside/out game; kind of like Reeves Nelson minus some of the crazy. He doesn't block a lot of shots, but he's a very strong presence on the boards, especially the offensive glass.
Via UNLV Insider and Niner's Nation Guru David Fusilio:
1. Which player should Cal fans be most afraid of on offense for UNLV?
Chace Stanback (#22) is the guy to watch on UNLV. The team beat Illinois with only two points from him, but often times as he goes on offense so go the Rebels. He can be an incredibly streaky scorer. He had two points against Illinois, but then bounced back with 29 against Louisiana-Monroe, including 8 of 9 from three-point territory. If he gets hot from outside, Cal might need to get his man some help, which obviously opens things up elsewhere. He is a guy who you can tell fairly quickly if it's his night or not. He got incredibly hot from three against ULM, but the best gauge of his night is when he pulls up for mid-range jumpers. He has a great shot just inside the three line and if he is hitting that early he is often in for a strong evening.
If you want a more under the radar offensive player, look out for 6'11 sophomore forward Carlos Lopez (#11). He comes off the bench and is an emotional energy guy for the Rebels. He can sometimes take himself out of games if he loses control and he is the guy you could argue is most likely to get a technical. However, he has some impressive moves down in the post and can get the crowd going with his offensive spurts. He is coming off his best game of the season in which he scored 12 points and grabbed 11 rebounds.
2. Which player should Cal fans be most afraid of on defense for UNLV?
Mike Moser is a beast on the defensive rebounds. He is seventh in the country in rebounds with 11.4 (7.9 on defense). He put up 16 points and 18 rebounds against North Carolina and 17 and 11 against Illinois. He is not a huge guy, but he uses his size well in blocking out and grabbing boards.
Justin Hawkins and Anthony Marshall are two guards to keep an eye on when Cal has the ball. Hawkins is a glue guy that does a little bit of everything. Marshall is probably my favorite Rebel to watch because of his athleticism and his leaping ability. While the leaping allows for some highlight reel dunks, I enjoy it more when he is able to go up and swat away shots by 6'9 and 6'10 guys. If a big man takes a little too much time after getting a pass down low, Marshall has an impressive ability to swat the ball away.
3. What type of defense does UNLV run?
UNLV runs a pressuring man-to-man defense. They'll occasionally run some full court press, but they do not do that too frequently. Instead they will try and trap a bit in the half court. They want to run on offense an avoid and they try to set that up with the pressure on defense. Patient offenses can use the Rebels aggressiveness to their advantage to some degree. UNLV was jumping the passing lanes and over pursuing against Illinois but for some reason the Illini never adjusted to take advantage of that.
4. What does Cal need to do to knock off UNLV?
When Cal is on offense they need to use UNLV's aggressiveness against them. It is not a simple task because the Rebels are a very athletic team, but if the Bears are patient, they can take advantage of it. It is about the fundamentals as far as making the extra pass to get a guy open.
When Cal is on defense, it often can depend on how the Rebels are shooting. You can tell fairly early if the Rebels will be hot or cold from beyond the arc. They have plenty of talent inside, but this team shoots a ton of threes, averaging 21.6 attempts per game. If UNLV is hot from three, Cal will have to stretch out their defense a bit and take their chances inside. If they can challenge shots, obviously their chances improve. The key for Cal on defense is to force UNLV into halfcourt sets and not let them get running.
5. What did UNLV do to defeat North Carolina?
UNLV won this game with stout defense. They were solid enough hitting threes, but their defense is what won this game. There were a couple stretches where UNLV struggled to get baskets, but UNC could never jump on top for extended stretches because of UNLV's defense. The Rebels won the battle of the boards, with Moser and Stanback combining for 28 rebounds. The team took Harrison Barnes out of his game on both ends of the floor. There have been some question marks about Barnes on defense and the UNLV offense exposed that to a certain degree.
That game was just about the best you'll see from UNLV. They were solid but not great shooting the ball, they hit their free throws, they cleaned up on the glass and most importantly, they played stifling defense. This team is built to run, but everything starts from the defensive end.
1) Cal's composure and ball security against pressure
The Rebels want to play fast and would love nothing more than to run the Bears out of the gym. We're already short-handed, so we can't compound that with silly fouls or turnovers.
2) Close out on shooters and rebound as a team
UNLV isn't necessarily a great 3-point shooting team, but they like to shoot them and are capable of getting very hot. We'll need to be ready to withstand their runs and not let them abuse us on long rebounds. Crabbe's ability to match-up with Stanback and keep him off the glass will be huge.
3) Bench Play
It's unrealistic for our top 5-6 guys to play the entire game at UNLV's break-neck pace. Somewhere along the way, we'll need to get quality minutes from either Smith, Bak, Murray, Thurman, or Powers. It was the collapse at the end of the 1st half by our reserves that contributed to the loss against San Diego State. If we have another let-down, UNLV is just as capable of putting together a decisive run.
Tip-off: 2pm PST
TV: CBS Sports Network
Online: Post below