ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Despite the way Chace Stanback has burst into the headlines as UNLV’s go-to player, it certainly didn’t happen overnight.
Last season, in his first year of action with the Rebels, the 6-foot-8 forward started and contributed to an NCAA tournament team, but felt himself being too passive around his new team and resolved to get aggressive.
Three years ago, he was struggling to simply crack the rotation of a Final Four team at UCLA and played sparingly before finding new life in the desert.
“It wasn’t a good fit,” Stanback said of his time with the Bruins. “I’ll leave it at that.”
Stanback doesn’t have to say much, as his game-high 19-point performance in a 69-55 semifinal win over Murray State at the 76 Classic served as a statement via bullhorn to those who haven’t noticed his rise.
Stanback was 7-of-8 from the floor on Friday night, drained three 3-pointers and used his length to help disturb a fast-paced Murray State offense.
“Chace is obviously making shots, but defensively, he’s playing with much more awareness and readiness from a year ago,” said UNLV coach Lon Kruger, whose team advances to play in Sunday night's final against Virginia Tech (ESPN2, 9 ET).
In a game that pitted the Runnin’ Rebels against the Racers, it was no surprise the game turned into a track meet. Murray State had no answer for Stanback and struggled to solve a swarming UNLV defense that forced 16 turnovers and caused the Racers to shoot 34.8 percent from the field.
The Rebels, 5-0 and already riding high after their recent win against a ranked Wisconsin team, were happy to out-execute their opponents at their own game.
“We try to do what we do -- make them adjust to us,” Kruger said. “Keep them from being comfortable in the halfcourt. We were disruptive and caused some havoc.”
The Rebels do it with five transfers on their active roster, including Stanback, Kansas transfer Quintrell Thomas (12 points, six rebounds) and Kentucky transfer Derrick Jasper (10 points, four rebounds). Last year’s leading scorer, Tre’Von Willis, came to Vegas from Memphis and is expected to continue working his way back into game shape after missing the first four games of the season due to suspension.
Willis contributed two field goals in 15 minutes off the bench, while Stanback continues to play the starring role.
Of course, Las Vegas has produced its share of talent as well. Rebels guard Anthony Marshall is a native and made his own emphatic statements with his two blocks. He came out of nowhere to swat Isaiah Canaan’s attempt at a driving layup in the second half.
Asked if he thought he could catch Murray State’s speedy point guard, Marshall said, “I just tried to sprint.”
It’s a fast start for UNLV, after all.