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UNLV vs. Arizona: Three things we learned from the Wildcats' hard-fought victory over the Rebels

Dusan Ristic erupts and Kadeem Allen continues to flaunt his toughness, but the Wildcats’ consistency on defense remains an issue.

Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

In what was at first a very fast, back-and-forth game, Arizona eventually pulled ahead to lead UNLV 44-36 at halftime. But when they failed to reemerge with energy at the start of the second half, the Rebels took advantage of many careless Arizona turnovers to pull within three at the 11:22 mark. That would be the closest they’d get.

Arizona would redeem last season’s frustrating loss and win 82-70. Let’s get to the three more significant things to glean from their victory.

1. Unleash the Ristic

Starting again in place of the injured Kaleb Tarczewski, sophomore center Dusan Ristic had scored in double-digits only twice on the season before suddenly exploding for 16 points against  UNLV in just the first half. He even made a three, his second attempt of the season. He finished with 20 points on 6-8 shooting and made 7 out of 8 from the line. Even though he secured only two rebounds, he proved he could be a force in the post. If he demonstrates more effort on the glass, as well as continue this sudden offensive output, the Wildcats will be just fine until Tarczewski returns. Especially with his pal Ryan Anderson beside him, who scored 17 points and grabbed 13 rebounds.

2. Kadeem is Relentless

Gone should be any worries over junior guard Kadeem Allen’s right leg that he injured in Arizona’s win over Fresno State, because time after time he penetrated UNLV’s defense with authority and either dished to one of his teammates or elevated toward the rim. If he didn’t score, he was fouled. He occasionally turned the ball over, but his repeated aggression is a great sign after that injury scare. Arizona cannot afford to lose yet another key starter. Allen also displayed toughness on the defensive side of the court, one time sprinting right back after a Ristic turnover to ferociously swat away what would have been an easy lay-up. He finished with a career-high 15 points and five assists. Arizona will require more of this same kind of aggression from him as the season wears on.

3. Defensive Awareness

A big reason why UNLV was able to keep up with Arizona in the first half was because the Rebels took advantage of lanes wide enough for even the Millennium Falcon to fly through. They also made completely uncontested shots. Too frequently, the Wildcats got jammed on screens, or did not help out on defensive penetration. After the letdown in energy to begin the second half, they started to defend more cohesively as a unit. There wasn’t as much space available for UNLV to drive into, and Arizona managed to get a hand up in the shooter’s face. In the final minutes, however, Arizona acquiesced and got a little lackadaisical, yet they managed not to defend too poorly and cough up their lead. In what could be viewed as a legitimate success, they held UNLV leading scorer Patrick McCaw (15.8 PPG) to 8 points on 3-14 shooting. A 43.5% three-point shooter, he was an uncharacteristic 0-5 from deep. As a team, UNLV shot only 42.4% from the floor and 22.4% from three. But how Arizona plays together on defense is something to keep an eye on. Too many stretches of lethargy and ineffective communication could spell trouble against Pac-12 competition, not to mention in their run for an NCAA title in March.