After a somewhat disappointing 7-3 start to the season, UNLV finally proved what they're truly capable of. Ending the Wildcats' streak if 39 consecutive non-conference regular season victories.
While you would hope that players would approach every game with the same focus and intensity night in and night out, it's simply just unrealistic. It's the reason why this very same UNLV team that just defeated one of the best teams in the country struggled against the likes of Morehead State, Sam Houston State and Portland.
The Runnin' Rebels were obviously up for the challenge against the Wildcats, but can they now deliver a good performance against a team they should definitely beat and avoid a let down?
It's clear at times that UNLV is just a team lacking experience. Several poor offensive performances have troubled the Rebels and resulted in losses. Despite this, UNLV does have a lot of talent and they've been able to get by several lackluster performances based on that alone. We've seen flashes of what they could look like when they start clicking offensively and spread the ball around. The Rebels got it going Tuesday night against Arizona, but now it's a matter of consistency.
UNLV's defense has proved to be the only consistency so far this season. The Runnin' Rebels currently rank fourth in the nation in blocked shots and 25th in field goal percentage defense. If the Rebels get it working on both sides of the court, they are a tough team to beat.
"I think it's always about having good communication in practice, making sure guys understand how it all relates to discipline and watching film and knowing what is expected of them," Dave Rice said. "As a coaching staff, you have to remain consistent with expectations. I think we're a team that has played 11 games and has shown signs of making significant progress from the beginning to this point, a team that has had to make improvements in a lot of areas and has done so."
Freshman guard Rashad Vaughn has certainly managed to make several minor improvements to his game. After struggling early in the season, particularly during the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic where he played extremely poor against both Stanford and Temple, Vaughn has worked on better shot selection. Leading the team with 17.7 PPG, he still takes a lot of shots, but when he's at his best, he's not trying to force things and UNLV's offense benefits as a result.
You can't really say enough about Christian Wood. If your talking about consistency, the sophomore forward has been the Runnin' Rebels most reliable player so far this season. Nearly averaging a double double with 13.9 PPG and 9.6 rebounds per game, Wood simply does it all. His presence on both offense and defense always needs to be accounted for. And considering the great game he had against Arizona's big men, I expect him to keep it up against a much inferior Southern Utah team.
Southern Utah doesn't have a whole lot going for them but if they're gonna get anything going against the Rebels, it will likely flow through junior guard A.J. Hess. He currently leads the team with 13.7 points per game and also averages 4.1 rebounds per game. Forward Tyler Rawson has also been a solid contributor for the Thunderbirds as a freshman, averaging 7.3 PPG and 5.6 rebounds.
UNLV vs. Southern Utah will not be televised Saturday night, but a live stream will be available at 7:00 PM on UNLVRebels.com.