Many times people look at the starters as the key to teams winning and losing, but lately I’ve watched and taken the time to talk with UNLV’s role players. And the more I see and hear, the more impressed I am. In the Rebels’ January 24 victory over Wyoming—which included one of the team’s best second-half performances of the season—senior forward Quintrell Thomas came off the bench to score a season-high 13 points and grab five rebounds. He was a powerful presence in the post, countering the Cowboys’ Leonard Washington, and he was crucial to the Rebels’ inside-out ball movement.
Thomas’ fellow reserve big man, Carlos Lopez-Sosa, didn’t play that night, and he only got in for a few seconds at Colorado State on January 19. Nevertheless, Lopez-Sosa has had some key games for the team—his solid performance against Air Force comes to mind—and he’s been a important part of coach Dave Rice’s flexible system of matching role players to the needs of a particular game.
Both Thomas and Lopez-Sosa have had moments to remember this season. Most of those moments have been unsung, but a few have been game-changing: Thomas’ rebound and put-back gave the Rebels an essential nonconference road win over Cal on December 9. Both players have had great attitudes, and remain team players all the time.
Thomas recently told me he just tries to keep his head into the game as it goes—to always be physically and mentally ready to contribute when called upon. He said he tries to do whatever is needed on the floor, whether it’s defense, rebounding or scoring. Lopez-Sosa, meanwhile, said sometimes it’s tough to sit and watch, but he’s always ready when his number is called. He has great footwork for a big guy, and he can play inside or outside, scoring a season-high 11 points against Chicago State on January 3. I often wonder where the Rebels would be this year without these two key role players and their positive attitudes.
Robert Smith—who starred for the Rebels from 1974-77—is the color analyst for UNLV basketball broadcasts on ESPN Radio 1100.
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