Marcus Lawrence: From Gorman to Sweet 16

ST. LOUIS --- Marcus Lawrence had plenty of chances to leave Las Vegas to play Division I basketball after helping lead Bishop Gorman to a state title as a junior. But the 5-11 freshman point guard, who had schools like Washington, Gonzaga, Virginia Tech, Minnesota, BYU and Utah recruiting him, decided to stay home and play for UNLV. Needless to say, he's glad he did.

"I'm so excited to be here that I can't really put it in words," Lawrence said following UNLV's practice on Thursday at the Edward Jones Dome here. "I appreciate our seniors so much because they pretty much got us here. We helped, but they did the dirty work and they played hard through injuries. And I really appreciate that."

Lawrence is being modest. He also played a key role in UNLV's turnaround season and the team's first trip to the Sweet 16 since 1991.

Lawrence played in all 36 games and started seven of them for the Runnin' Rebels (30-6), who face Oregon (28-7) on Friday night (6:40 p.m. PST). He filled in nicely for the injured Kevin Kruger on two different occasions during the season and had a better than two-to-one (78 to 31) assists to turnover ratio. He also had 35 steals and played excellent defense.

He will likely be Kruger's replacement next season. But for now he's just happy contributing any way he can to continue to help put his hometown university back on the college basketball map.

"It does make it more special," Lawrence said of being the only Las Vegas native on UNLV's roster. "People don't understand how (UNLV basketball) kind of like died out. No one really talked about it much. We didn't have a vibe in town.

"When I was growing up, nobody really tried to push me to UNLV. But I bet if a local kid came up now he'd probably just want to go there because."

The Runnin' Rebels obviously have a "vibe" again in Las Vegas.

That wasn't the case when he decided to buck a recent trend where many top-notch local products have elected to go elsewhere to play their college basketball. So why did he pick UNLV?

"It was Coach (Lon) Kruger and the people he was recruiting," Lawrence said. "I knew Matt Shaw. I talked to Wink (Adams). And there also was the situation of them having only one point guard and I'm backing him up. And then next year, if everything goes well, I'm starting.

"I knew everything would work out. Coach Kruger is a good coach." Lawrence has played just three minutes in each of the first two NCAA Tournament games and has zero points and two rebounds to show for it. But he figures to see more action on Friday night against the Ducks and explosive small guards Aaron Brooks (6-0, 160) and Tajuan Porter (5-6, 160).

"Hopefully," Lawrence said if he thought he might play more. "You never know. On any given day. But with smaller guards maybe I'll get a lot of time. I might not. That's not really a big deal to me. As long as I get on the floor I'm going to give it everything I've got."

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ADAMS HEALTHY: Sophomore guard Wink Adams, who had to leave UNLV's 74-68 win over Wisconsin on Sunday after bruising his tailbone following a nasty spill under the basket, said he could be close to 100 percent for the Ducks.

"It's a lot better," Adams said. "Today I was actually able to practice and run and get some shots up and fly. I'm feeling really good. I'm going to go ice it and put a heating pad on it and hopefully I'll be 100 percent."

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DOME SWEET DOME: Neither the Rebels nor the Ducks appeared to have much trouble adjusting to shooting in a dome for the first time this season during Thursday's practices.

Edward Jones Stadium, home of the St. Louis Rams, will have the court in one end zone with temporary bleachers on the other side. Still, there's a much deeper background behind the baskets than players are used to in a normal arena.

"It feels a little different," guard Kevin Kruger said. "It kind of feels like you're out there by yourself and you kind of hear people's voices. (But) when it comes down to it, you have to focus on the rim and the hoop and stick to what you've been doing your whole life."

"We haven't played in a dome but we've played on a basketball court," Oregon forward Malik Hairston said. "So we're going to be playing basketball. As long as they don't throw a football or baseball out there I think we'll be all right."


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