LAS VEGAS -- Pressure defense, limited turnovers and offensive consistency were No. 24 UNLV's goals against UC Irvine on Wednesday night.
Freshman Anthony Bennett and junior Mike Moser scored 19 points apiece to lead the Runnin' Rebels to an impressive 85-57 victory.
Using tenacious defense, the Rebels held UC Irvine scoreless during a crucial five minutes of the second half, long enough to widen their lead to 20 points and take the Anteaters out of the game. UNLV outscored UC Irvine 51-31 in the second half to pull away for the easy win.
Katin Reinhardt added 13 points for the Rebels (4-1).
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"The offensive part [of the game plan] was to limit our turnovers, and when your point guard [Anthony Marshall] makes only one turnover and your backup point guard [Savon Goodman] makes none, they're doing their job," UNLV coach Dave Rice said. "From an offensive consistency standpoint, I thought it was our best game [of the season].
"Anytime you can get 22 assists and make only seven turnovers .."
Rice didn't finish his thought. Nor did he need to.
The Rebels scored the game's first six points and built a 10-point lead three times in the first half. Though the Anteaters closed the gap to 25-22, Carlos Lopez-Sosa's first career 3-pointer helped UNLV extend its lead over the final five minutes. Moser scored 11 points and Bennett had six to lead UNLV to a 34-26 halftime lead.
Moser, who was 4 of 13 from the field and had five rebounds, went right after the Anteaters, commanding the ball and using an aggressive approach from the opening tip. His baseline drive for a dunk that put the Rebels up 21-11 with 9:23 remaining in the half was a punctuation to his effort. The Rebels were 12 of 32 (37.5 percent) from the field, including 2 for 9 on 3-pointers, and made 8 of 9 free throws over the first 20 minutes.
"Tonight the defensive effort got us going," Moser said. "When we're making stops and making shots, it's a winning combination. We're slowly getting better. And my part in that is to continue to attack the glass and make plays for everyone, including myself."
Said Rice: "I can say a lot of great things about Mike Moser, but his work ethic stands out. One thing he knew he needed to improve was his play on the post, and he has greatly improved his post game. He can handle it, shoot from the perimeter and post up and score. He has great feel out on the perimeter."
Senior guard Daman Starring, who grew up in Las Vegas, had 18 points and Adam Folker added 12 for the Anteaters, who lost by four points or fewer in their first three losses. This was their second straight loss by double digits following a 10-point loss to Pepperdine last Saturday.
"The type of defense they play, they get in your face," Starring said. "They can dictate the game and make you do what they want you to do."
Bennett sat out Monday's practice with a sore back, but practiced Tuesday at full speed, while Marshall sat out with swelling in a knee. Neither looked as if they were bothered at all. Marshall finished with six points and nine assists.
After a relatively quiet first half, with just six points, Bennett had 13 in the second half and scored seven of UNLV's first 17 points in the second half.
UC Irvine (3-4) scored just 21 points over the final 14:59 of the game - nine from the free throw line.
"Depth serves us well," Rice said. "Nine guys played; nobody more than 32 minutes. When we play that well on the defensive end that puts a lot of pressure on the offense."
UC Irvine entered the week No. 7 in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio, but the Rebels had no trouble creating turnovers, forcing the Anteaters to cough up 15. UC Irvine had just 10 assists. Alex Young went into the game leading the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio at 10.33, as he had 31 assists compared to just three giveaways. But against the Rebels, the freshman guard committed four turnovers and had just two assists.
"The thing making them good right now is their physical aggressiveness defensively," UC Irvine coach Russell Turner said. "That really bothered us. It bothered us more than I thought. They're a better defensive team than an offensive team, and I give their coach credit for building than mentality with a young team. They're good."