Image courtesy of TheDailyTarheel.com
The annual Maui Invitational kicked off today, and the first round saw coach T.J. Otzelberger’s UNLV Rebels agains Roy Williams’ University of North Carolina Tarheels. This matchup marked the sixth all-time meeting between the two schools which UNC entered the series 4-1. While pandemic-related travel restrictions along with a recent spike in positive cases have moved the tournament from its scenic location of Maui, Hi. to the mainland, the neutrality of the new site could certainly be called into question as the invitational is now being held in Asheville, NC.
With that, the UNLV Rebels tipped-off in what would essentially amount to a home game to a superior opposing team, and for the better part of the first half, you wouldn’t have even known it. Down double-digits and scoreless, the Tarheels found themselves on the ropes early. In the first fifteen minutes, UNLV managed to look more impressive against the 14th ranked team in the country than they did in both halves against Montana State last week, and that should honestly motivate them.
Rebel starters combined for 38 of the teams 51 total points, with Bryce Hamilton and Caleb Grill leading the charge offensively as the only UNLV players to finish in double figures with 15 and 10 respictively. The Rebs shot 29% from the field and went 8 of 37 from beyond the arc. Like we saw last week, the Rebels have an unfortunate habbit of taking desperation 3’s in an attempt to stay in games while accomplishing the opposite and that’s something the coaching staff has to address immediately. To that point, free-throws have to become a strategic part of their offense. While “how well” UNLV shoots from the charity-stripe is of concern, “how often” should be as well. The Rebels shot 7 of 15 to the Tarheels’ 21 of 32 which is one of the most glaring statistics of the night.
While expectations are certaily high for a returning Hamilton, he can’t do it all, and 6’3″ sophmore transfer Caleb Grill out of Maize, Kansas is arguably one of coach Otzelberger’s most exciting new scoring threats. Following his coach from South Dakota State to UNLV, Grill aims to make his presence felt early. Leading the Rebels in 3-pointers made, he’s made a bucket from deep in his first two UNLV outings, and keeps the Rebel’s shooting streak alive with a 3-pointer made in the last 1,104 consecutive games, which is an NCAA record.
A young team finding its way. A head coach with less than 18 months at the helm. Empty seats at a relocated invitational venue. A lot can be said, but at the end of the day the Rebels just need to go out and play hard. This teams toughness will be tested over the next several weeks as UNLV plays either Stanford or Alabama next to finish out the tournament, and then head out to Manhattan, Ks. to play the Kansas State Wildcats which is a tough environment for any opponent.