The non-league season is a great chance for coaches to test lineups, push buttons, read body language and see who has bought in to the system. For first-year UNLV basketball coach T.J. Otzelberger, this was very clear — especially after multiple discipline punishment for team rules while the team got its sea legs. Whetever buttons Otzelberger pushed worked out, as the team has opened Mountain West Conference play with a scorching 4-1 start.
The second place Rebels (9-9 overall) have found new ways to win, changing a program culture that seemed complacent and satisfied with being “just OK.” That won’t fly with Otzelberger. Since league play began, the Rebels have beaten the league favorite (Utah State) while dominating multiple middle-of-the-pack Mountain West opponents. The most recent success was a heroic comeback on the road at Wyoming where the Rebels came back to force overtime after being down seven points with 1:13 to go in the game before dominating overtime to win, 78-69.
“I’m proud of our guys,” Otzelberger said after the game. “It was a choppy game with both teams switching a lot of defenses. We were on our heels, but at various points in the game, our guys stepped up and made key plays. Bryce Hamilton early, Amauri Hardy after halftime, Jonah (Antonio) hit some big shots, (Marvin) Coleman when he came back after the fouls. To win on the road is tough, I don’t care who you play. Our guys found a way to step up at key moments to get the win.”
While many factors have contributed to the Rebels’ surge, one standout has been the sophomore Hamilton, who was named the Mountain West Player of the Week and has been playing like the prospect many believed the talented young guard to be. A young sophomore (Hamilton just turned 19 in November), the southpaw has been nearly unstoppable.
Hamilton is averaging 18.8 points per game while pulling down seven rebounds a game in conference play, leading the Rebels, who have outscored league opponents by almost seven points per game so far.
UNLV returns home tonight to take on San Jose State (6-12, 2-4 MWC) at 8 p.m. The Spartans are led by leading scorer Seneca Knight (13.7 ppg) while Christian Anigwe is the team’s leading rebounder (6.2 rpg).
Fans can bring a business card to the game for a free popcorn voucher as part of the Hump Day Work Perk promotion. Tickets start at just $16 if purchased at least a day in advance at UNLVtickets.com, by calling 702-739-FANS or by visiting the Thomas & Mack Center Box Office.
The game will be televised by AT&T SportsNet with Jenny Cavnar and Joe Cravens calling the action. Jon Sandler, former Runnin’ Rebel Curtis Terry and Steve Cofield (sideline reporter) will handle the UNLV radio call, which may be heard live on ESPN Radio 1100 in Las Vegas and online via the UNLVGameday App and TuneIn.