Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023 | 2 a.m.
UNLV’s season opener did not go according to plan, not by a long shot.
The Scarlet and Gray were manhandled by visiting Southern University in a shocking, 85-71 defeat that raised a lot of questions about a team that came into the season with serious NCAA Tournament expectations.
They’ll start answering those questions on Saturday, when Kevin Kruger and his crew host Stetson (4 p.m., Mountain West Network/Silver State Sports Entertainment).
Can UNLV bounce back? Three keys to watch:
Hunt to the rafters
UNLV is honoring one of its greats on Saturday, as former sharpshooting guard Anderson Hunt will have his jersey raised to the rafters during a halftime ceremony.
Hunt played three years at UNLV from 1988-91 and scored 1,632 points, which ranks him 14th on UNLV’s all-time scoring list. He also nailed 283 3-pointers, which is still the most program history.
In addition to his impact on the record books, Hunt had a reputation for playing his best in the biggest games. He was the second-leading scorer on UNLV’s national title team in 1989-90, averaging 15.9 points per game while making an ahead-of-his-time 2.5 3-pointers.
He hit five 3’s and scored 20 points in the semifinal win over Georgia Tech that year, then poured in a game-high 29 while shooting 12-of-16 from the field (4-of-7 3FGs) in the historic 103-73 blowout of Duke in the NCAA championship game.
The Detroit native said he still makes it out to Las Vegas a few times a year and maintains relationships in the area.
Hunt will have a group of family and friends at the Thomas & Mack Center for the ceremony, including his mother, grandmother and high-school teammates.
“I feel good, just to be back in Vegas and be around some of the old players,” Hunt said. “And my family will be down here, so I feel great. It hasn’t sunk in yet, though.”
As for those legendary Tark teams? Hunt still keeps in contact and said he heard from teammates Greg Anthony, Stacey Augmon and a host of others after the news of his jersey retirement was announced.
“We have a group text,” Hunt said. “It was like, ‘Congratulations, well deserved, overdue.’ Greg texted me, Stace. Dave Brothers sent me a video. Moses Scurry texted me, Travis Bice.”
Hunt will become the fourth member of the 1990 championship squad to have his number retired, joining Anthony, Augmon and Larry Johnson.
In search of swagger
UNLV made a lot of tangible mistakes in its stunning, season-opening loss against Southern University. There were blown assignments on defense, bad shots taken on offense, and unforced turnovers galore. But Kevin Kruger thinks the biggest problem was not anything you’ll find in the box score.
After two days of practices and watching film, Kruger mostly wants an attitude adjustment.
He said the Scarlet and Gray played timid in the opener, allowing Southern to dictate everything. And once UNLV fell behind, a crisis of confidence made it impossible to make up the difference.
Kruger said the top priority against Stetson is coming out with intensity.
“We’ve got to be more aggressive,” Kruger said. “We’ve got to be the aggressor. We’ve got to take the fight to them. And of course you work on that in practice, about being stronger, playing with more assertion, but confidence can be a funny thing. When it leaves you, it’s not like you can say ‘I’m going to be confident again.’ You’ve got to work through it and get our swagger back.”
We should know in the first few minutes whether UNLV has regained its preseason swag, or if they’re in for another trying night.
Kalib Boone was suspended for the opener due to a DUI arrest last month, but he’ll be suited up on Saturday.
His return should boost UNLV on both sides of the court, as the 6-foot-10 post player is expected to get a lot of touches in the paint and provide a stabilizing defense-and-rebounding presence.
Boone spoked to the media for the first time after Friday’s practice and expressed remorse for the actions that earned him his one-game benching.
“It was rough, for a lot of reasons. I wanted to be out there helping my team win,” Boone said. “It made me think about, man, if I never would have did what I did, it probably wouldn’t have been like that.”
Look for UNLV to throw the ball inside to Boone early to let him act an interior scoring threat.