During UNLV’s recent six-losses-in seven-games stretch, the most damaging defeat came to Nevada in Las Vegas. Marqueze Coleman hit a jumper in the closing seconds to propel Nevada to a 64-62 win, giving the Wolf Pack three straight wins over UNLV.
But it isn’t Coleman’s game-winning shot that haunts the Runnin’ Rebels; it is AJ West. The junior big man had 15 points, 15 rebounds and six blocks in Las Vegas, with 10 of those boards coming on the offensive glass.
"He will absolutely be at the top of our scouting report," UNLV head coach Dave Rice said. "For a team that has not rebounded the ball extremely well, it’s critical – if we’re going to have success tomorrow night – that we block him out."
West leads the country in offensive rebounding percentage, as he grabs 22.1 percent of Nevada’s misses when he is on the floor. As a team, Nevada grabs 40.3 percent of its own misses, ninth best in the country. It is by far the Wolf Pack’s biggest strength on offense, as they rank 275th in adjusted offensive efficiency, per KenPom.com.
The big struggle for Nevada’s offense has been shooting. Since hitting 5 of 14 threes (35.7 percent) against UNLV on January 7, Nevada has shot 10 of 62 (16.1 percent) from three during its four-game losing streak. That has dropped the Wolf Pack to dead last in the NCAA in three-point shooting at 23.1 percent for the season.
Eric Cooper, who was 4 of 6 from three against UNLV, has made seven of Nevada’s threes in the last four games. But he’s only shooting 25.9 percent from three in that stretch, which includes a 4 of 12 outing against Fresno State on Saturday.
Goodluck Okonoboh missed UNLV’s game against New Mexico last week, but he came off the bench to play 20 minutes against Utah State on Saturday.
"He was able to practice a little bit before Saturday’s game, and then he gave us 20 minutes," Rice said. "I wanted to put him back in the game, but he wasn’t able to. He had a little too much pain in the second half and overtime. (We’re) hopeful he’ll be able to go and give us quality minutes. We certainly need him on the boards with AJ West."
Okonoboh has plantar fasciitis in his right foot, but Okonoboh’s playing time is dependent upon pain tolerance. He can’t hurt it any further by playing, and the big man practiced on Monday.
Cornish shooting his way into minutes
The last two games have seen Jordan Cornish make an offensive impact from beyond the arc. Cornish has gone 5 of 8 from three against New Mexico and Utah State last week; he’s now at 54.5 percent from three for the season.
"I like the confidence that he plays with. The biggest thing with Jordan is he plays with good energy and a sense of purpose," Rice said. "I like what he brings, and that’s why with four minutes to go in regulation, I put him back in the game. He just makes things happen."
Cornish had played 37 minutes the last two games, and he may have carved out an important role in the offense.
"He’s shooting the ball extremely well," Rice said. "I think we’ll see a lot of zone, and his ability to stretch the defense opens up opportunities inside for us."
The game will tip at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday and will be broadcast online through ESPN3 and WatchESPN. UNLV has yet to win at true road game this season and hasn’t knocked off Nevada since March 2, 2013.