Key statistics: WSU held the Rebels to their lowest score of the season, 33 points under their average from the first eight games. With poor shooting (19 of 47) and 19 turnovers, UNLV enjoyed few opportunities to press.
How the game turned: Fred VanVleet scored 10 points, grabbed two rebounds and added an assist and a steal during six-minute period in which the Shockers went up 24-11 in the first half.
Records: UNLV 7-2, WSU 4-4
Stat that might surprise you: WSU made 11 of 22 foul shots, its worst since making 6 of 14 against Loyola last season. The Shockers were shooting 75 percent from the line entering the game. WSU missed the front end of three one-and-ones and all those empty trips to the line kept UNLV in the game.
Stat that shouldn’t surprise you: WSU grabbed 14 offensive rebounds, five more than UNLV, to create 10 second-chance points.
Freshman watch: WSU’s rookies are playing less, which should be somewhat reassuring. The more experienced players are either healthy (VanVleet), eligible (Conner Frankamp) or improving (Zach Brown, Shaq Morris). That is as it should be.
Markis McDuffie played 14 minutes and scored four points. He didn’t commit a turnover.
Why they’re All-Americans: VanVleet dazzled in the first half, when he scored 14 points and had three assists. UNLV helped greatly by choosing to go over ball screens, set on 21st Street, which allowed him to attack a back-pedaling big man and do what he wanted. VanVleet was no threat to shoot from the WuShock logo, yet UNLV guards declined to go under the screen and contain him.
That gave VanVleet several opportunities to put the Rebels at a disadvantage.
He hypnotized four defenders and passed to Rashard Kelly, who slipped unnoticed into the lane for a layup. He made a three over a taller defender, Ben Carter, when UNLV appeared to mess up its defensive assignments on an out of bound play. He scored over Carter, after a ball screen, when Carter backed behind the three-point line. Then he picked on Carter again, after guard Jerome Seagears took himself out of the play by going over a Rauno Nurger screen, for an off-balance banked in layup for a 22-8 lead.
VanVleet’s good enough against solid defense. The Rebels made it easy for him.
“We watched a lot of film before his injury,” UNLV’s Patrick McCaw told Ed Graney of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “He makes a huge difference. It showed. We had to figure out how to contain him.”
Ron Baker added 13 points and six rebounds in 36 minutes.
Rotation watch: Ten Shockers played and there seems to be a clear line forming between that group and the deeper part of the bench. WSU got a solid game from his three centers, with Shaq Morris playing 16 minutes, Rauno Nurger 11 and Bush Wamukota 13.
WSU coach Gregg Marshall will play matchups with that trio, starting Morris and using him as long as he is effective. Nurger is a good outside shooter. Wamukota is a solid defender and the best rebounder of the bunch.
▪ UNLV’s Patrick McCaw, guarded largely by Zach Brown and Baker, scored five points on 2-of-8 shooting. He entered the game averaging 18.4 points.
“McCaw is lighting it up,” Marshall said. “Somebody gets credit for that, and that’s the dudes that are guarding him.”
▪ Evan Wessel’s stat line won’t stand out to many other than Marshall. He made sure to point out the production in Wessel’s 333 minutes, in which he scored two points and grabbed six rebounds.
“I thought Evan Wessel may have been the MVP,” Marshall said. “Man, did he defend. Did he get on the floor for loose balls. I bet he got us six or seven extra possessions just coming up with loose balls, coming up with passes that would have otherwise been turnovers. Those are big plays, in my estimation, but they’re not statted.”
▪ Saturday’s game against Utah will be a tougher test, which makes it helpful to get Conner Frankamp’s debut out of the way. He went to WSU’s 2:45 p.m. shootaround not knowing if his grades and paperwork would be cleared in time to play. Word came down around 3 p.m.
“It was kind of a scattered day,” he said. “I was focused on school and trying to get that completed so I could play (Wednesday). Once I heard I was good to go, I was ecstatic.”
Around the Valley: Bad night for the MVC, with Southern Illinois losing at home to Southern Illinois-Edwardsville 76-74, Indiana State losing at home to Valpo 69-63 and Drake losing at home to DePaul 74-71.
Conference affiliation was all the talk around the arena before the game. We reached one conclusion for the MVC-WSU relationship:
MVC, just be the Atlantic 10.
Those are similar schools with a public/private mix that, apparently, are more serious about basketball than several of the MVC schools.
In 2014-15, the A-10 had three NCAA teams and three in the NIT.
There are 14 A-10 schools and 10 in the MVC, so adjust your expectations proportionally. To the further credit of the A-10, it lost Xavier and Butler to the Big East in 2013 and Temple to the American and kept rolling.
People can understand that Evansville isn’t Indiana, Drake isn’t Iowa and Illinois State isn’t Illinois. Why Evansville isn’t Davidson, Bradley isn’t Richmond or Missouri State isn’t UMass is less clear.
The Valley makes a lot of sense on many levels for WSU. But until it makes more sense for men’s basketball, it’s an issue.
Next up: vs. No. 25 Utah (2:30 p.m., ESPN2) at Intrust Bank Arena. The Utes (7-1) will probably be WSU’s toughest opponent, post-Florida, this season. They will be well-coached, disciplined and physical.
Center Jakob Poeltl, who hurt the Shockers last season, averages 21.3 points and 9.9 rebounds. He is making 69.2 percent of his shots. Last season, he scored 12 points and grabbed 11 rebounds.
Opponents make 42.3 percent of their three-pointers against Utah.