The non-conference season ended for UNLV on Tuesday night with a thumping of South Dakota State, 103-68, their largest victory against an opponent this year. It was an exclamation mark in a non-conference that also seemed to be punctuated with question marks.
Looking back on the first section of this season, and all of the Rebel players and games, it's time to bring some holiday cheer to a non-conference record of 9-4 (a respectable mark considering many national analysts did not consider the Runnin' Rebels viable contenders). It's also time to share Rebel fans' holiday wishes for their squad as the conference slate begins next week.
High Jump Award: Who Else? Derrick Jones. This high flyer has been amazing crowds since day one at UNLV. Although he possesses a thin body build, he throws down with power and can jump with the best dunkers in the country. Rebel fans' holiday wish is that Jones will have a few more high flying acrobatic moves, especially during big games, and especially right in the face of Mountain West opponents.
Bench Baller Award: Ben Carter. Even though Carter's role changed recently in the absence of Stephen Zimmerman, he had come off the bench for most of the season until this point. His contributions may have been surprising to some who didn't know this transfer's game well. But he provides instant grit, vocal leadership, and astute post skills. Rebel fans' holiday wish is that he will continue to be a big time rebounder (something the team is in dire need of).
Give Me ‘3' Award: Ike Nwamu. Not always on fire from deep, but the times when Nwamu is, he can be deadly accurate. He has proven to be the team's most reliable 3-point shooter. His ability to be more consistent provides an excellent outside threat. Rebel fans' holiday wish is that they can see him make a couple 4-point plays during big games against teams like New Mexico (and current conference leader, Utah State).
Persistence Award: Jordan Cornish. Maybe not the kind of recognition Cornish would like to gain, but despite his shooting woes, thus far this season, he has persevered. This is a player who shot nearly 50% from 3-point range last year. He's just beginning to come into his own, driving to the basket and changing his skill set to make every and any contribution for the squad. Rebel fans' holiday wish is that Cornish will have at least one breakout game where he punishes another MW team from 3-point range.
Rising Star Award: Patrick McCaw. He hasn't been as "lights out" the last few games, but the first several match-ups of the non-conference slate proved that McCaw had been hidden in the shine of ex-Rebel player, Rashad Vaughn. Now, he's making a name for himself as a leader, a defensive minded baller, and highly skilled 2-3 guard. He'll be the difference in how the season ends up for UNLV. Rebels fans' holiday wish is that McCaw will end his current scoring slump and have a consistent 12 points, 4 assists, 3 rebounds, and 2 steals per game in conference play.
What? Too much to ask? Come on. These are holiday wishes. Now, the Runnin' Rebs have to make these UNLV fans' wishes come true. They may not be Santa, but they do love their red.