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UNLV vs. South Dakota preview: Rebels face another three-point test

Dave Rice knows his three-point defense has to get better, but can UNLV improve against a guard-heavy - and eager to shoot - South Dakota team?

Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

When asked what was the biggest problem with his team this season Dave Rice had a clear answer.

"Giving up open three-point shots. We’ve talked about it from day one; it’s been a huge emphasis for us. We have to do a better job of contesting three-point shots," Rice said.

With South Dakota up next, UNLV will be tested again. The Coyotes are shooting 36 percent from three this season and nearly knocked off Creighton in double overtime Tuesday night thanks to some hot shooting.

That’s Tyler Larson draining two threes in the final seconds to get South Dakota into overtime. Larson is shooting 44 percent from three this season, and he’s not the only guard ripping the nest for South Dakota. Brandon Bos is at 39.5 percent from beyond the arc, and Casey Kasperbauer is at 40.7 percent.

South Dakota will likely play four guards for the entire game and may go stretches with five guards, which means UNLV will have big men guarding on the perimeter. That was part of the defensive issue in UNLV’s second-half letdown at Arizona State.

"We are always going to switch (screens) if the situation lends itself to three-point shooters on the floor," Rice said. "We tell our guys all the time there is no defense for open three-point shots."

The switching will take away open threes off ball screens if done properly. Against Arizona State, UNLV was supposed to be switching screens, but often one defender would switch while his teammate was not expecting it.

UNLV is allowing opponents to shoot 36.2 percent on threes, which is 261st in the country. However, UNLV has been phenomenal on 2-point defense, allowing opponents to make 35.8 percent of shots, 4th in the country.

Yep, UNLV’s opponents are making a higher percentage of threes than twos.

But that two point defense, which is anchored by the shot blocking of Goodluck Okonoboh and Chris Wood, is why Rice wants his team to run shooters off the three-point line.

"I told our guys earlier in the week that I have a lot less patience with mistakes," Rice said. "Early in the season we had a lot of new guys. Now we’re seven games into the process, and we need to be better."

That lack of patience doesn’t just apply to three-point defense, but that is UNLV’s biggest problem so far. UNLV has used a lot zone defense this season - mostly 1-2-2, but also some 1-3-1. Both defenses have a weakness in allowing open corner threes. But as UNLV practiced the 1-2-2 on Tuesday, Rice was yelling no open threes.

The other practice move Rice has implemented is using Dantley Walker as a scout team three-point shooter. Jordan Cornish said Walker is probably the best shooter they have faced.

While the four-guard lineup will give UNLV problems on the defensive end, the Rebels should be able to exploit the size advantage on offense. South Dakota switched ball screens, which meant Creighton could get its big man matched up with the smallest Coyote.

SD switch

But Creighton didn’t throw into the post in either of the overtimes. UNLV won’t be able to get away with that.

"If teams are going to go small, we’ve got to take advantage of our size on the interior," Rice said.

NOTES

  • The Rebels should be at full strength, as Jelan Kendrick and Rashad Vaughn practiced Monday and Tuesday. Kendrick and Vaughn both sat out the Saint Katherine game with a groin and back injury, respectively.
  • South Dakota is 3-7 on the season; they have lost games in overtime (at Fairfield), double overtime (at Creighton) and triple overtime (vs Sam Houston State).
  • Only one of the Coyotes losses came by double digits, an 11-point loss at Stanford. UNLV lost on a neutral court by 29 to Stanford.
  • Kenpom.com predicts a UNLV victory, 69-66
  • The game will tip at 5:00 p.m. PST from Sioux Falls, South Dakota. It is a faux-road game for UNLV, as the Coyotes play their home games in Vermillion, about an hour away. The game can be seen online through ESPN3.com or the WatchESPN app.