UNLV vs. Arizona: A Runnin' Rebels Q&A with MWC

Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sp

Peter Dubois of Mountain West Connection answers our UNLV questions to preview the game.

Time

3:15 p.m. MST

TV

ESPN2

1. UNLV lost to an Arizona State team that UA fans are familiar with for obvious reasons. What went wrong in that game and how did the Sun Devils attacks the Rebels to win?

The Rebels were coming off two particularly bad performances on their home court against UC Santa Barbara and Omaha-Nebraska. The first of which saw them lose by 31 points. Arizona State ran their traditional up tempo offense, but UNLV was surprisingly able to keep pace with them.

There were times in the second half where the Rebels appeared like they were gonna pull away away with it, but ASU guard Jahii Carson consistently found a way to answer on the other end. He had a career high 40 points and kept UNLV on their heels whenever he was on the court. In the closing minutes, ASU was able to tighten their defense and force UNLV to take poor shots down the stretch. All this being said, the Rebels played a pretty solid game for the most part, but when you go 15 of 29 from the line you won't win a lot of games. Once the Sun Devils got ahead, they played their possessions wisely, made a couple free throws and came away with a win.

2.  Can you tell us about Roscoe Smith and how he impacts the game from both ends of the court?

Roscoe's been without a doubt the Rebel's most consistent player at this point. He might have an off game shooting wise every now and then but he's currently leading the NCAA in rebounds and prides himself on that aspect of his game. Smith has had four double-doubles this year and has yet to have a game where his rebounds are in single digits.

He plays very aggressive and that could sometimes get the best of him offensively. The Runnin' Rebels have struggled with poor shot selection for most of this season and although Roscoe Smith isn't on the top of the list, he's taken his fair share of poor shots when he tries to force it. Still though, if Smith gets going offensively and does his thing on the boards he's definitely the biggest impact player for UNLV.

3. At 3-3, there have been good days and bad days for UNLV. What are their biggest weaknesses that you see?

There are many new faces on this UNLV team and their lack of chemistry was a glaring issue for the first couple games. After getting blown out by UC Santa Barbara, they've continued to improve after each game. But when UNLV can't get what they want on the fast break and the defense doesn't give them anything easy, they will struggle with poor shot selection. If they can't make anything happen inside, the Rebels will resort to taking ill-advised three-pointers.

Another issue for UNLV has to be free throws. As I mentioned above the Rebels played well enough to beat ASU earlier this season, but their free throw woes played as big a role as Jahii Carson's career high performance in that game. They've done a better job at the line these past two games against Illinois and UT-Martin, but because it's been such an issue and this their first road game I could see the Rebels struggling once again.

4. What about the good? I suspect the length of UNLV will make them a pretty good defensive team as the numbers indicate.

There hasn't been a whole lot of consistency for the Rebels this year. Defensively, it all depends on the opponent and the tempo of the game. If the game is at an average pace, UNLV will typically play tighter defensively and players like 6-9 forward Khem Birch will make plays defensively depending on the match-up.

If it's an up-tempo game, the Rebels will play a lot looser defensively and try to keep pace with the opposing offense. I wouldn't really say UNLV really has a go to guy offensively, but in that aspect of the game I would probably have to go with junior guard Bryce Dejean-Jones. He hasn't been the kind of impact player the Rebels were hoping for, but after suffering a strained hamstring injury in an exhibition and missing the first game against Portland State, he's been pretty solid and currently leads the Rebels with 12.8 points per game. If UNLV needs some kind of spark offensively, look for them to go to Bryce.

5. What's one flaw you think the Rebels can improve upon immediately?

I'd probably have to go with their free throw shooting. It's really been contagious for UNLV as even returning players who've never had major issues with it are struggling from the line. Coach Dave Rice has addressed this problem and the Rebels have done better in their past two games as a result.

It may seem trivial, but when you play quality teams like Arizona, you can't shoot under 50% from the line and expect to have a chance. The Runnin' Rebels have many flaws, but this one definitely appears to be the most correctable.

6. Aside from Smith, who's another player that you think could could leave a mark on the Wildcats?

I could see junior forward Khem Birch standing his ground defensively and maybe even making a couple big plays on the other end, but going up against the likes of Aaron Gordon and Brandon Ashley it's tough to say. I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say the senior guard Kevin Olekaibe has his best game as a Rebel on Saturday. The Fresno State transfer pretty much lives and dies on the perimeter, but with the challenges Arizona presents defensively, I expect UNLV to push the ball out to him whenever a play breaks down. If the Wildcats give Olekaibe a little space behind the line he could very well make them pay.

7. Give us a prediction and what you think UNLV must to do beat the Wildcats.

Right now there's really no conceivable way I could see the Wildcats dropping this game on their home court. It would take a great all-around performance by UNLV and poor one from Arizona in return to make up for the difference in talent on the court. Taking into account this is the Runnin' Rebels first game on the road makes it that much harder to believe they'll pull the upset. Perhaps if the #1 cloud is to hang over Arizonaon Saturday and UNLV plays a solid game, it could be closer then most would expect. I just can't see it though.

UNLV would have to play solid defense the entire game, force the Wildcats into tough shots and not allow them to go on runs and take control of the game. On the opposite end, the Rebels will definitely need to play at a fast pace and execute in transition as much as possible. UNLV might keep it relatively close by halftime, but I expect Arizona to pull away early in the second half and never look back.

Final Score: Arizona 71 UNLV 56

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