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UNLV vs. #14 Utah preview: Rebels start tough stretch with Utes on the Strip

Rashad Vaughn has been getting more looks on the pick and roll for UNLV, but will he be able to match Utah’s Delon Wright?

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

It is time for UNLV to prove itself. After nine games UNLV has squeaked by lesser opponents at home and gotten crushed by Pac-12 teams Stanford and Arizona State. Now it is Utah, then Arizona and not far away is Kansas.

"The next couple of weeks is going to really show where we stand," Cody Doolin said. "We’re going to play some good teams, and it’s going to be a hell of a stretch of basketball."

The Utes are coming into Las Vegas at 7-2 this season and ranked 14th. The two losses were at San Diego State and at Kansas. Utah has two good wins as well knocking off Wichita State in overtime  and going on the road to take down BYU.

Vaughn on the ball screen

As UNLV tried to trim Portland’s lead in the middle of the second half on Wednesday, Dave Rice leaned on Rashad Vaughn's playmaking. With under eight minutes remaining, UNLV had three straight possessions of Vaughn creating off a ball screen. The best of which was this alley oop to Goodluck Okonoboh.

That probably should have been called goaltending, as Vaughn’s pass appears to be in the cylinder when Okonoboh touches it.

Despite that, Vaughn does a tremendous job of stringing out the defense on this ball screen. He manages to draw his man and Okonoboh’s defender with him towards the block, which opens up the lane for the alley oop.

Vaughn has done a good job recently of pulling up at five feet from the basket and shooting before shot blockers can bother him. He’s also started to show signs of reading the help defense really well by making passes to shooters on the wing or corner.

If UNLV can get significant production from giving Vaughn ball screens, the Rebels offensive efficiency can leap up; currently UNLV ranks 193rd in offensive points per possession.

"He’s always been a really good scorer," Rice said of Vaughn on the pick and roll. "The biggest thing is he’s been a lot more selective, and he’s been much more balanced. He’s still shooting outside shots, (but) he’s not settling."

Scouting Utah

Delon Wright is one of the most efficient players in the country, and he has done most of his damage on the pick and roll this season.

"Delon Wright is as good of a player as we’ll face all year long. Limiting Wright’s ability to get to the basket is another key for us," Dave Rice said.

Here’s a horns set Utah runs that gets Wright and Jakob Poeltl in a pick and roll plus has a weakside screen for a shooter.

Wright and Poeltl work this ball screen tremendously. Poeltl doesn’t give away which way he’s screening until the last moment, and Wright shakes his defender. This allows Wright to get into the lane easily, but as the defense steps up, Wright lofts a floater over the shot blockers.

UNLV is one of the nation’s top shot blocking teams, so Wright’s ability to hit floaters could keep Chris Wood and Goodluck Okonoboh at bay.

Wright has also been tremendous finishing at the rim. Per hoop-math.com, he is shooting 73.8 percent at the rim. Utah as a team is shooting 69.5 percent at the rim, 24th best in the country. UNLV is second in the country in opponents’ field goal percentage at the rim, at 42.8 percent.

Wright also did this to Kansas off a ball screen.

The best way to prevent Wright from doing damage off ball screens is to swarm him. This was against BYU’s zone.

Wright Swarm

Wright was called for an offensive foul as he tried to score through the triple team.

The main problem with swarming Wright is leaving his teammates open. If Wright makes the right read, Utah will get open shots. But not swarming him will likely lead to Wright having a big day.

The other major contributor to Utah’s offense is Jakob Poeltl. The seven footer is shooting 69 percent from the field while averaging 10.9 points at 9.4 rebounds. Poeltl is second in the country in offensive rebounding percentage, as he is grabbing 20.9 percent of his team’s misses while he’s on the court.

Rebounding has been a big issue for UNLV; Dave Rice stressed that rebounding is his next focus for his team to improve. The problem for the Rebels is that Utah is one of the country’s best rebounding teams, and UNLV runs low on big men.

Notes

  • Utah is one the most efficient teams in the country. The Utes rank ninth in offensive rating and 37th in defensive rating, which slots Utah 10th in the country in efficiency differential. They are outscoring opponents by 32.3 points per 100 possessions.
  • Utah is 11th in rebounding percentage, grabbing 57.9 percent of available rebounds.
  • Utah isn’t far behind UNLV’s rim protection greatness. The Utes are 29th in opponents’ field goal percentage at the rim, 48.7 percent. Plus Utah is eighth in block percentage and sixth in two-point field goal defense.
  • UNLV is fifth in block percentage at 18.4 percent and 16th in two-point field goal defense.
  • Utah plays slow; the Utes are 267th in possessions per game averaging 64.8. UNLV isn’t playing extremely fast either averaging 68.1 possessions per game – 126th fastest.
  • Utah gets to the free throw line 25.8 times per game, 30th best in the NCAA. UNLV is in the top 30 in opponents’ free throw attempts per game, allowing 14.4 attempts.
  • Utah’s Jordan Loveridge had surgery on his knee in early December and is expected to miss a month, but Dave Rice noted on Friday that he wasn’t sure whether Loveridge would play or not in Las Vegas.
  • In 4 games this season Loveridge was averaging 11.5 points and was 8 of 16 on threes. Last season the 6-foot-6 forward averaged 14.7 points.
  • UNLV is allowing opponents to shoot 33.1 percent on threes this season, but the Pac-12 teams – Stanford and Arizona State – shot 59.5 percent from the arc against the Rebels.
  • Utah is shooting 38.7 percent on threes, 43rd best in the country.
  • Chris Wood has six double doubles in nine games this season; he’s just off averaging a double double at 13.4 points and 9.2 rebounds. He’s also averaging 3.2 blocks per game.
  • Cody Doolin has only dished out three assists in each of the last two games; UNLV is 4-0 when he has six or more assists.
  • Goodluck Okonoboh hasn’t recorded a block in two games. He had 13 in the first two games of the season then six more against St. Katherine. But he has just six OkonoBLOCKS in the Rebels other six games this season.
  • This will be the first time that UNLV plays a game on the Las Vegas Strip.
  • Utah is favored by 8.5 points, and KenPom.com has Utah winning 64-59.

Utah’s football team is playing in the Las Vegas Bowl at 12:30 p.m. PST, which means Las Vegas will be full of Utah fans looking to double dip on football and basketball.

"It sounds like with the number of Ute fans that’ll be there, (it will be) at best a neutral site game," Rice said.

Even though the MGM Grand is less than three miles from the UNLV campus, Dave Rice is treating it like a road game. The Rebels will stay at MGM prior to the game.

This matchup is part of the MGM Grand Showcase benefitting Coaches vs. Cancer. Washington and Oklahoma will play at 6:00 p.m. PST. UNLV and Utah are scheduled to tip at 8:30 from the MGM Grand Garden Arena. UNLV and Utah will be broadcast on ESPN2.