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UNLV vs. Arizona preview: Wildcats look for revenge against the Runnin' Rebels

It's the last major test for Arizona before conference play begins

Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Wildcats have won five straight games since losing to Providence a few weeks ago, and now they're set to face their last formidable non-conference opponent in the UNLV Runnin' Rebels. The Runnin' Rebels are 8-3 this season, but are coming off a Wednesday night home loss to ASU. Aside from the Sun Devils, UNLV has played two other Pac-12 teams -- Oregon and UCLA -- and the Rebels beat the Ducks 80-69, but fell to the Bruins 77-75.

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Time: 7:30 p.m. MST

TV: ESPN2 (Roxy Bernstein, Sean Farnham)

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As we know, UNLV was one of just a few teams that beat Arizona last season, but its roster has undergone a major overhaul since then. Rashad Vaughn and Christian Wood, who combined for 45 points in last year's game, both left for the NBA, so the Wildcats won't have to deal with them this time. UNLV does return Patrick McCaw, however. The 6-7 guard scored 11 points off the bench in last year's matchup, and his production has drastically increased this season. He averaged just under 10 points per game last season, but this season he's up to 15.8 PPG, while hitting 43.5 percent of his three-point attempts.

McCaw has scored 20 or more points four times this season, and he's the guy that Arizona is going to have to find a way to shut down, or at least limit. In the past two years, guarding a player like McCaw would've been a task given to Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, but obviously that won't be the case this time, and it will be interesting to see who Sean Miller has guard him, especially since it seems unlikely that Elliott Pitts will play.

While Arizona fans may or may not remember McCaw, there's certainly one player on the UNLV roster that they are familiar with, and that's Stephen Zimmerman Jr. Zimmerman, a 2015 five-star recruit, was strongly considering joining the Wildcats this offseason, but opted to stay at home and play for UNLV. Some people believe that Zimmerman's decision would have been different had Kaleb Tarczewski declared for the NBA Draft. Regardless, Zimmerman will be playing in McKale Center this Saturday -- not exactly in the way Arizona fans would prefer -- but it should make for a fun "what if" scenario. He's averaging just under 10 PPG this year.

UNLV also features Jerome Seagears and Derrick Jones, who both average double-figures in the scoring column, but unlike McCaw, they don't shoot particularly well. That's one weakness of this UNLV team since, as a whole, they only shoot 33.5% from behind the arc. They do excel on the defensive end, however, as they've held their opponents to a 39.2% field goal percentage this season.

Arizona has won its last two games by a combined 91 points, but UNLV always seems to give Arizona a tough time, so I would expect this game to be a close one all the way through. And to be honest, UNLV is a talented enough team that it wouldn't be totally surprising to see the Rebels come away with another win against Arizona if the Wildcats have an off night. I don't foresee that happening, but it's possible.