UNLV has lost its leading scorer for at least the rest of the regular season, leaving an undermanned team searching for offensive answers.
Rashad Vaughn was a run-away favorite for Mountain West Freshman of the Year, but now he is facing at least four weeks on the sideline from a torn meniscus in his left knee. The Rebel guard was averaging 17.8 points and 4.8 rebounds, while shooting 38.3 percent from three.
Dave Rice is facing the task of replacing his most used player with a usage rate of 30.8 percent. That’s the second highest usage rate of any freshman in college basketball this season.
Vaughn could find his way back on the court this season for the conference tournament in March. He is scheduled to have surgery early next week.
"I know that’s his goal to be able to come back and play the end of this season," Rice said, while also stating that they would not bring him back unless he was 100 percent.
With Vaughn out at least the rest of the regular season, UNLV will now likely turn to Jordan Cornish to make an impact.
"Jordan Cornish had played so well lately, I was trying to find a way to get him more minutes," Rice said. "This is not the way I wanted it to happen, but certainly I think he’s ready to step up and make a big contribution."
Cornish has played in 23 games, while averaging 13 minutes. He’s shooting 50 percent from three, but he’s only shot 44 this season. The freshman from Louisiana has played on the wing, but has also been the four when UNLV has gone small.
The other name expected to take on a larger role is Jelan Kendrick. Kendrick started the majority of the games early in the season before being unseated by Pat McCaw. Kendrick has proven to be one of UNLV’s best perimeter defenders. Kendrick is averaging 5.7 points in 23.8 minutes per game.
Dantley Walker will likely find his way into more minutes. The diminutive, but hot shooting guard hasn’t seen major minutes in conference play, but he is now UNLV’s eighth man.
What UNLV loses most – or what’s irreplaceable – is his ability to get the rim. Vaughn has been the Rebels best threat to score off the bounce. Plus he can knock down tough shots when the offense doesn’t create a good look.
Beyond the scoring, UNLV’s rebounding is set up to struggle even more. The Rebels have been the worst defensive rebounding team in conference play, but Vaughn had been one of the bright spots. His defensive rebounding percentage of 15.9 percent was second only to Chris Wood on the team.
Wood, who is coming off a 27-point, 19-rebound performance against Fresno State, will become the top offensive option, as well as the lone man at the top of opponents’ scouting reports. Wood will have to score with even more attention, plus he may have to rebound at a higher level to replace Vaughn.
Dave Rice said he hadn’t decided who he was going to start in place of Vaughn when UNLV takes on Air Force this Saturday. UNLV beat Air Force 74-63 in Las Vegas on January 31st.
The two likely candidates are Cornish and Kendrick. Cornish only played eight minutes in the previous meeting against Air Force, shooting 0 of 4. Meanwhile, Kendrick turned in one his best games of the season against the Falcons with 15 points, five rebounds and five assists.
UNLV and Air Force will tip at 11:00 p.m. PST from Colorado Springs, Colorado. KenPom.com currently has UNLV winning 67-66, but the Falcons do return their best player Max Yon, who did not suit up against UNLV due to personal issues.
In the 18 games that he played, Yon is averaging 13.8 points per game and shooting 39.6 percent from three. Yon missed six games form January 14th to January 31st; the Falcons were 1-5 without him. In the three games since he returned, Yon is averaging 19.3 minutes and 6.7 points on 33 percent shooting.