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How Pat McCaw became UNLV's most important player

Freshman Pat McCaw gave the Rebels hope in San Diego. He even got a little help from his head coach’s play calling.

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

The NCAA Tournament may have already slipped away for UNLV – barring a 12-1 end to the season or a conference tournament title – but freshman Pat McCaw is still proving to be a major bright spot for years to come.

Playing against the nation’s number two defense, it took McCaw, in his first career start, to get anything going offensively. Through 11:08 of game time, McCaw was the main reason for 14 of the Rebels 17 points, as he had eight points and three assists. UNLV had a 17-11 lead over San Diego State.

Dave Rice called McCaw’s number more frequently with baseline screens early on.

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McCaw uses the screens to get enough space on Aqeel Quinn to catch and shoot. It’s even more impressive considering McCaw wasn’t even close to being square to the basket when he started to shoot.

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The quick shot gave Quinn no chance at even contesting the shot, and McCaw found the bottom of the net.

Earlier in the half, McCaw came open for a three after running off baseline screens.

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This is actually a part of UNLV’s most complex offensive set called Turn Right (or Left depending on the first pass). McCaw forgets for a moment to run across the baseline, as both Goodluck Okonoboh and Christian Wood wave for him to move.

McCaw benefits from San Diego State sticking their worst defender, Matt Shrigley, on him. McCaw takes advantage, as Shrigley gets caught in the screens and JJ O’Brien doesn’t provide help quick enough.

It didn’t take long for Steve Fisher to take Shrigley off of McCaw, as Quinn was tasked with defending the hot hand. But McCaw’s do-it-all stat line of 16 points (6 of 11 shooting), three assists, three steals and six rebounds wasn’t enough.

Dave Rice has used McCaw like duct tape. Any problem UNLV has, Rice tries to stick McCaw on it as the solution.

When Cody Doolin has been struggling, UNLV has turned to McCaw to run the offense. When Wood, Okonoboh and Dwayne Morgan had three fouls apiece in the first half against South Dakota, McCaw became the five man in the Rebels offense. When UNLV isn’t creating quality looks against a zone defense, McCaw gets slotted at the free throw line to break down the defense.

He’s the best on-ball defender on the team, excluding the final play against Nevada. He understands the defensive concepts at UNLV better than anyone except maybe Cody Doolin. All that has led to McCaw leading the team in steals while committing the fewest fouls per 40 minutes of any Rebel.

While some of his more highly-touted teammates may be heading to the NBA after a year or two, McCaw is likely to stay all four years at UNLV. His backcourt teammate, Cody Doolin, has said multiple times that McCaw is going to be a great player for UNLV for a long time.

There is a good chance McCaw ends up as the player with the best UNLV career among the most recent highly-rated recruiting class. It needs to get better around McCaw for this season, for the future.