At the midway point of UNLV’s 2015-16 season, we’re counting down the most outstanding games and performances from an already memorable campaign.
7. Rebels edge Cal Poly
UNLV came into the season with big expectations, and it didn’t take long before Dave Rice’s talented squad was put to the test. On opening night, the Rebels found themselves in a scrap with an upset-minded Cal Poly team, tied 67-67 with two minutes to play. Jordan Cornish put UNLV ahead with a driving layup, and the Rebels made just enough of their free throws to hang on, 74-72. After a 2014-15 season that saw the team struggle to close out tight games, the first victory of the 2015-16 campaign was hard-earned.
6. Rebels shoot the lights out
Despite a roster dotted with accomplished 3-point marksmen, UNLV came into the final game of the non-conference schedule shooting just 32.6 percent from 3-point range. It was a frustrating season-long showing for a team that had planned to rely on its long-distance accuracy as a primary weapon, and fans were starting to get concerned. Then the Rebels took the court against South Dakota on Dec. 22, and none of that seemed to matter as the Rebels splashed home 3 after 3, eventually draining 18-of-32 from long range to fuel a 103-68 win. Eight different players hit at least one triple, and four players hit more than one, proving that when the Rebels find their groove, they can bomb with the best of them.
5. Ben Carter is back
Dave Rice says that his most disappointing recruiting miss was when Bishop Gorman big man Ben Carter chose Oregon over UNLV in 2012. Fortunately for Rice, he got a second chance when Carter decided to transfer after his sophomore season. Rice landed his target the second time around, and after sitting out a redshirt year, Carter has proved to be worth the wait. He’s been a godsend for the Rebels, taking charges, moving the ball, keeping rebounds alive and doing all the other little things that lead to wins. And sometimes, like when he scored 16 points to help UNLV topple Indiana on Nov. 25 and 10 points to help the Rebels beat his old Oregon team on Dec. 4, he does the big things, too.
4. McCaw breaks out in Maui
Diehard UNLV followers knew what the Rebels had in sophomore Patrick McCaw, but the rest of the country was a little slow to come around. That changed at the Maui Invitational, as the 6-foot-7 guard scored 20-plus points in all three games to lead UNLV to a 2-1 record and a win over No. 15 Indiana (see next entry). By scoring 21.7 points per game on national TV and playing his usual brand of aggressive, smothering defense, McCaw showed he is not only one of the best players in the Mountain West, but potentially one of the best in the nation.
3. Hoosier hunt
After dropping a close game to UCLA on Day 1, it looked like there was a good chance UNLV’s trip to the Maui Invitational would end up being a total bust. The Rebels beat Chaminade in round 2, but that set up a meeting with No. 13 Indiana and the Hoosiers’ high-powered offense on the third and final day of the tropical tournament. UNLV proved to be up for the challenge, however, as the Rebels raced out to an early lead and held on for an exciting 72-69 victory. Patrick McCaw led the way with 20 points, while Ben Carter and Ike Nwamu added 16 apiece to give UNLV its first marquee win of the season.
2. Derrick Jones takes flight
UNLV was in the process of cruising to a 107-45 win over Division-II opponent New Mexico Highlands on Nov. 16 when freshman Derrick Jones stopped time:
The dunk immediately went viral, making the SportsCenter Top 10 countdown and marking Jones as one of the best dunkers not just in college basketball, but in the world.
1. Rebels beat Oregon on the Strip
The Rebels’ best win of the season came under the bright lights of the Las Vegas Strip, against No. 15 Oregon on Dec. 4. Freshman big man Stephen Zimmerman played like a giant, totaling 12 points and 12 rebounds to help stake UNLV to a double-digit lead in front of a partisan crowd at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Oregon fought back in the second half and threatened to push the game down to the wire, but the Rebels responded, led by senior Ike Nwamu, who scored a team-high 19 points and drained the most euphoric bucket of the season for the Rebels so far:
Ike Nwamu is your dagger man tonight pic.twitter.com/KhOsMi341o
— Mike Grimala (@MikeGrimala) December 5, 2015
Story: UNLV Outlasts No. 15 Oregon