WyoSports senior editor Robert Gagliardi did a question-and-answer session with UNLV men’s basketball beat writer Matt Youmans of the Las Vegas Review-Journal about tonight’s game with Wyoming at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.
Look for Q&As with writers who cover the Mountain West foes of UW throughout the conference season.
Question: At 15-4 overall and 2-2 in the Mountain West, how would you assess UNLV’s play to this point? What’s been good and not so good?
Answer:The Rebels have shown only brief flashes of their potential, but that’s not surprising. From the start, I expected this team to underachieve according to expectations the first two months of the season and begin to peak in February and March. Anthony Bennett, Mike Moser and Khem Birch have started only three games together on the front line. Bennett, Birch and guards Katin Reinhardt and Bryce Dejean-Jones are newcomers. It’s not a young team at this point, but it’s a group still learning how to play together as a team, especially on the offensive end. UNLV’s resume was not that impressive until it beat San Diego State on the road last week. At the same time, the Rebels don’t have any bad losses, and each of their four losses were by six points or fewer to quality opponents — Oregon, North Carolina, New Mexico and Colorado State.
Q: How is the status of junior forward Mike Moser and his right elbow he dislocated earlier in the season? He tweaked the injury last week at Colorado State, so will he play against Wyoming and is he the same player he was prior to the injury?
A: Moser’s elbow seems to be fine and he’s expected to play. But he hasn’t been the same player because of injuries since early December. He still plans to leave for the NBA after this season, but he needs a strong finish to get drafted. Everything has been a disappointment for him to this point. He’s shooting just 38 percent from the field, 22.2 percent from 3-point range, and is not defending or rebounding with the same aggression he did as a sophomore. He needs to get more motivated.
Q: The statistics indicate freshman forward Anthony Bennett has made a big impact for UNLV and the Mountain West. But his averages are down in conference play. Aside from playing some good teams, any observations to why the numbers have dipped?
A: I expected Bennett’s numbers to drop off in league play. It’s a conference with several strong defensive coaches, and they have scouted him and see his weaknesses. For one, he has trouble adjusting to physical play. Two, he’s seeing double-teams on every touch. Three, his conditioning needs improvement. He was averaging 19.9 points after nonconference play and is scoring 13 per game in league play. The biggest thing is he needs to adapt to defenses doubling him and getting physical. It’s a learning process. It seemed like he hit a wall last week. But he’ll bust through the wall and he’s still a top-5 NBA pick today.
Q: In a league full of great guards, where do you think senior Anthony Marshall ranks among them and why?
A: Fans want Marshall to be a pass-first point guard, but he’s not Steve Nash. He’s a scoring guard who happens to run the point, and he’s best at dribble penetration and attacking the rim. That’s why he’s shooting 48 percent. He had 41 points in the past two games. When he’s asked to score first and pass second, he’s one of the top four guards in the league. But that role for Marshall is not always best for UNLV, which needs more ball movement and more guys involved in the offense.
Q: What is the key to the game for both teams, in your mind, and what is your prediction for the final score?
A: The Cowboys need Leonard Washington to get physical with Bennett but do it without getting into foul trouble. Wyoming has to make it a half-court game, and coach Larry Shyatt was able to do that last season when these teams played three times. Shyatt is a great defensive coach, and Washington is one of my favorite players in the league. But I don’t think the Cowboys, without Luke Martinez, have enough offense to hang close in this one. You should see a fully focused UNLV team off a loss, and Bennett and Moser are anxious to bust out after two poor games. I’ll say Rebels win, 70-58.