The Arizona Wildcats are set to travel to Las Vegas on Saturday to take on the UNLV Rebels in their first true road game this season (8 p.m. MST, CBS Sports Network).
Arizona is a 3.5-point favorite, but the Wildcats (4-3) have not had much success against the Rebels (6-1) in Vegas, going 1-8 there all-time.
But here is how they can secure a road win this time around.
1) Limit second shots
It seems like the winner of this game will be the one that can keep the other off the offensive glass.
Neither squad is particularly good at defensive rebounding — Arizona is 146th (of 351) in college basketball in defensive rebounding percentage and UNLV is 180th — but both are good offensive rebounding teams, especially the Rebels.
UNLV has the ninth-best offensive rebounding percentage in the country and star freshman center Brandon McCoy and junior forward Shakur Juiston are two of the best rebounders in college basketball, averaging 12.1 and 13.0 rebounds, respectively.
Arizona freshman Deandre Ayton is one of the top rebounders in college basketball too, but he doesn’t get much help from his teammates. Arizona’s wings need to crash the boards and Dusan Ristic needs to hold his own under the basket.
Arizona’s defense simply isn’t good enough to survive if it allows second shots.
2) Don’t leave the shooting at home
UNLV is extremely stingy when it comes to defending the 3, limiting teams to a 23.4 shooting percentage from beyond the arc — the fourth-best mark in the country.
Arizona has been a good 3-point shooting team this year ... when playing at home.
The Wildcats are shooting 41-79 from 3 at home this season, but an awful 10-54 away from McKale.
Of course, all three of Arizona’s non-McKale games were in a weird ballroom setting in Battle 4 Atlantis. Still, Arizona players agreed that the strange lighting wasn’t a factor in their poor shooting.
“Basketball is the same no matter where you play it,” Allonzo Trier said. “We just weren’t as efficient when we came away from home. We have a lot of young guys who had their first time playing on the road. They might have had some jitters. They will get better as they gain experience.”
Arizona’s newcomers, aside from Ayton, were basically no-shows in the Bahamas except for a late-game explosion by Brandon Randolph vs. Purdue.
This will be their first true road game and if they have the same jitters they did in the Bahamas, Arizona probably won’t win. They need someone other than Trier and Parker Jackson-Cartwright to hit shots from the perimeter.
3) Effectively front the post
Brandon McCoy, a former McDonald’s All-American, is averaging 18.6 points per game while shooting over 60 percent from the field, but Northern Iowa may have found the blueprint to slowing him down in its win over UNLV — front him in the low post.
“They were fronting him all over the place,” UNLV head coach Marvin Menzies said of Northern Iowa via the Las Vegas Sun. “We hadn’t seen that yet. Well, we’d seen it, but we hadn’t seen it with a 7-footer, or 6-10. And [Koch] was a strong, big, skilled, experienced player…It was tough for our guards to make entry passes. We were calling stuff to try and get middle pick-and-rolls and get middle touches and deep touches to avoid double teams, and we just couldn’t get that ball entered.”
McCoy only had nine points and five shots in that game, by far his lowest marks of the season.
Arizona’s defense isn’t good this year, but it does have the size, strength, and length with Ristic and Ayton to replicate what Northern Iowa did.
Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire