Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Saturday, Dec. 21, 2013 | 12:07 a.m.
It was often boring, with splashes of highlights and terrible turnovers to liven things up. One thing this game wasn’t, though, was close.
UNLV built a double-digit lead in a little more than five minutes and easily dispatched Sacred Heart 82-50 Friday night at the Thomas & Mack Center. The game never got closer than 23 in the second half, and the Rebels cruised to the end for their largest margin of victory this season.
It’s the third straight win by at least 19 points for UNLV (6-4), which is taking advantage of a weaker stretch of its schedule.
“We needed games to blow out teams so we can get our confidence up,” said Khem Birch, who had 15 points and eight rebounds. “At the beginning of the year, had we played this team, I don’t think we would have won by more than 10 points.”
Anyone in the announced crowd of 12,235 would probably disagree with that. Sacred Heart (2-10) has played some good games this season, including an overtime loss at Boston College, but the Pioneers never had the personnel to stay with the Rebels.
The Rebels’ front court did whatever it wanted against Sacred Heart’s undersized group. Roscoe Smith registered his seventh double-double with 15 points and 13 rebounds, helping UNLV dominate the boards 53-34.
And the thing is, the Rebels didn’t even put any extra emphasis on getting the ball down low. They shot 21 3-pointers in the game, including a 1-for-13 effort in the second half.
“Coach didn’t say anything about passing inside tonight,” Birch said. “He just wanted us to play.”
With a 27-point lead and nine minutes on the clock, all five UNLV starters were still in the game. The Rebels led by as much as 36 early in the second half, but once that started to slip, UNLV coach Dave Rice put his main guys back in the game.
It’s the latest example of a Rice trend with rotations. There’s a balance to strike between giving the bench extra minutes in a blowout and trying to also keep your foot on the pedal. Rice said he felt he accomplished that — freshman Demetris Morant played nine minutes, Daquan Cook and Carlos Lopez-Sosa combined for nine — but also made his top priority clear.
“The No. 1 thing is trying to win the game, and win the game by as many points as possible,” Rice said.
Freshman Christian Wood missed all four of his shot attempts, including three 3s, but he still finished with four points, six rebounds and five blocks in 16 minutes. Bryce Dejean-Jones had 14 points with four assists and only one turnover.
Overall, the team shot well — 44.4 percent — but the amount of attempts and misses from 3 was a head scratcher in an otherwise solid outing. Rice said he was OK with the shots because they were open.
They certainly were open looks, but there’s also something to be said for force-feeding the ball inside when getting away from that style of play has been an issue in losses. Plus, they knew it would work.
Either way, this was a solid get in and get out effort from the Rebels. They played a great first half that ensured the outcome heading into the second half. And they got out healthy before playing a back-to-back Sunday and Monday, starting with Santa Clara at 7:30 p.m. at the Orleans Arena.
“We’re going to need everybody this weekend,” Rice said.