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UNLV vs. Arizona preview: Rebels hunting for quality win

UNLV will have to have another tremendous performance protecting the rim, plus the Rebels have to up their offensive efficiency if they want to knock off #3 Arizona.

Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

UNLV gets another shot at taking down a top-25 opponent when #3 Arizona comes to the Thomas & Mack Center on Tuesday.

The Rebels are coming off a 13-point loss to #14 Utah on Saturday night and will have to hand 12-0 Arizona its first loss if UNLV wants to avoid an 0-4 season against the Pac-12. UNLV lost at Arizona State and in Brooklyn to Stanford.

For the NCAA Tournament resume, UNLV will need to grab a win over Arizona or against Kansas in January. Dave Rice put together a tremendous nonconference slate, but that won’t do UNLV any good if the Rebels can’t knock off one of the big boys.

Key Matchup

  • UNLV is one of the nation’s best rim protecting teams anchored by Goodluck Okonoboh and Chris Wood. But Arizona has thrived at finishing near the basket this season.
  • UNLV is blocking 18.6 percent of opponents’ shots, fourth best in the country. Plus UNLV is holding opponents to 42.8 percent at the rim, per Meanwhile Arizona has only had 3.4 percent of its shot blocked, second best in the NCAA; the Wildcats are fifth in field goal percentage at the rim, shooting 74.7 percent.
  • Okonoboh and Wood are both averaging 3.1 blocks per game. Against Utah on Saturday, Okonoboh had six blocks and flustered the Utes around the rim.
  • If the UNLV bigs can keep Arizona at bay in the paint then Rebels can hang around. But it will take an offensive performance that doesn’t rank as historically awful to pull the upset. The Rebels .68 points per possession against Utah was the worst mark in the Dave Rice era.


  • Dwayne Morgan (hip) and Goodluck Okonoboh (knee) got hurt against Utah and both missed practice on Sunday. But the two big men are expected to play and practiced on Monday.
  • Cody Doolin missed practice the day befor the Utah game with flu like symptoms. He practiced Sunday and Monday and will play.
  • UNLV is ranked 340th out of 351 division I teams in free throw percentage at 59.2 percent.
  • The Rebels were 10 of 23 from the stripe against Utah – their worst percentage of the season. But in the previous game against Portland, UNLV was 13 of 15.
  • Like Utah, the Wildcats are one of the most efficient teams in the country. Arizona is 25th in the NCAA in offensive rating at 114.6 and 30th in defensive rating at 87.1.
  • The Rebels have put up a good number on defense with a rating of 92.3, good for 80th. But the offense is near the bottom 100 at 97.8 points per 100 possessions.
  • Although Utah didn’t torch UNLV from three, the Utes did shoot 33 percent. The only three teams to hit at least 1/3rd of their threes against UNLV have been the Pac-12 teams – Utah, Stanford and Arizona State.
  • Arizona is shooting 38 percent on threes this season.
  • The Wildcats have some big wins this season. They won the Maui Invitational by knocking off Missouri, Kansas State and San Diego State in consecutive days. Plus Arizona beat Gonzaga by three in overtime.
  • Arizona leads the country in defensive rebounding percentage at 79.6 percent and is ninth in total rebounding percentage. Utah is a top-30 rebounding team as well, but UNLV managed to out rebound the Utes.
  • Arizona hasn’t allowed an opponent to score 80 points in 57 straight games.
  • UNLV is 6-0 this season against teams with animals as nicknames.

Arizona Rotation

  • Arizona has six players averaging over 20 minutes and between seven and 15 points per game.
  • T.J. McConnell starts at point guard and scores 7.1 points while dishing out 6.3 assists per game. But he has struggled to shoot at 39 percent from the field and 27 percent from three.
  • Gabe York leads the Wildcats in three-pointers shot at 4.3 per game. He’s shooting 35 percent on three; 66 percent of York’s points come from either three or the free throw line this season.
  • Stanley Johnson is the top option and leading scorer at 14.7 points per game. He’s been excellent on spot up opportunities this season scoring 1.28 points per possession, according to Synergy Sports.
  • Brandon Ashley starts in the frontcourt and averages 11.6 points on 55 percent shooting. At 6-foot-9 he can step outside and shoot, as he is 7 of 14 on threes.
  • Kaleb Tarczewski is the starting center; he’s averaging 8.7 points and 5.7 rebounds. The seven-footer has been slightly above average on post ups, scoring .87 points per post up.
  • Coming off the bench is Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. He’s the number two option on offense behind Johnson. He does most of his damage at the rim, as 47.6 percent of his shots come at the rim; he’s shooting 83 percent at the rim.


Dave Rice on Arizona:

"They’re one of the best teams in the country. They’re extremely balanced. It’s a great opportunity for us and a tremendous challenge to be able to play against one of the best teams in the country."

Dave Rice on the offensive struggles:

"We’ve got to continue to attack the basket and play inside out. And when we get to the free throw line, we have to convert our free throws."

Dave Rice on Cody Doolin taking one shot against Utah:

"He’s going to open up other guys when he’s more aggressive. He’s such an unselfish leader that he wants to get other guys involved. One of the best ways to get others involved is to get himself involved first."

Pat McCaw on running the pick and roll with Goodluck Okonoboh:

"We have a good relationship, and I have a feel for pick and roll and how to read it. I can do it with Chris and Dwayne (too)."

Pat McCaw on UNLV playing well after losses:

"I don’t know how many losses it’ll take for us to understand that we can’t bounce back after that many losses."


More from Pat McCaw

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Be sure to check out Arizona Desert Swarm for more on this game.

The game will tip at 7:05 p.m. PST from the Thomas & Mack Center and will be broadcast on CBS Sports Network. predicts an Arizona victory by the score of 71-61.