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UNLV vs. Nevada preview: Chris Wood, AJ West highlight rivalry

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AJ West and Nevada head to Las Vegas looking for a third straight win in the rivalry.

Lance Iversen-USA TODAY Sports

UNLV has lost two-straight games for the first time this season but now return home for matchup with in-state rival Nevada on Wednesday.

UNLV (9-5, 0-1 MW) will look to get its offense shooting well against Nevada (5-8, 1-0 MW), which ranks below average in adjusted defensive efficiency. The Wolf Pack have done a good job holding opponents under 30 percent from three and 45 percent from two, but Nevada’s strength of schedule ranks at 219. Nevada has played as many non-division I teams as they have Ken Pom top 100 teams this season.

Against Kansas, UNLV shot 40.7 percent from the field, and only Cody Doolin (5 of 6) was over 50 percent. NBA hopefuls Rashad Vaughn and Chris Wood were held to 4 of 10 and 5 of 12 shooting, respectively.

The last time out Nevada had its best performance by beating Air Force 80-62 in Reno. Nevada crushed Air Force on the offensive glass by grabbing 17 of their 33 misses.

"They’re playing the best basketball of the year," UNLV head coach Dave Rice said. "They are shooting it well; they’ve rebounded the ball well all season."

Key Matchup

Nevada is one of the better offensive rebounding teams in the conference and ranks 39th in the NCAA in offensive rebounding percentage. Meanwhile UNLV has been up and down on the defensive glass this season.

"They’ve got a solid, older team with a lot of good offensive rebounders. We’re going to have to do a good job on the glass against them," UNLV senior guard Cody Doolin said.

No one hits the offensive glass better in the country than AJ West. The Wolf Pack big man leads the nation in offensive rebounding percentage at 22.5 percent. Only three other players are over 20 percent. West is crushing the Mountain West as no one else is at 14 percent for offensive rebounding percentage.

West doesn’t race in from the perimeter to get boards; he typically gets tremendous position and keeps it. He’s a guy that has to be blocked out. Here’s what he did to Air Force.

The Falcons are one of the worst rebounding teams in college basketball, which led to West having his way down low. West grabbed nine offensive rebounds on his way to a 16 point, 13 rebound performance.

UNLV had been impressive since mid December on the defensive glass, grabbing 80 percent of opponents’ misses. But Kansas managed to extend possessions by grabbing 17 of their 41 misses (41.4%).

The Rebels prevented Kansas from converting on those second chances by holding the Jayhawks to seven points after those offensive boards. West has been much better converting second chances.

West is shooting 61.8 percent on putbacks and 47.3 percent of his points have some after he grabs an offensive rebound. That doesn’t include free throws either, as he goes to free throw line 28.3 percent of the time he grabs an offensive board.

Chris Wood, Goodluck Okonoboh and Dwayne Morgan will likely be the best front court West will face all season. The biggest worry for UNLV will be if any of the big men try to get too many blocks in help-side defense, leaving West alone for a putback.

In two games last season West played 29 minutes against UNLV. He grabbed seven offensive boards; this year West is playing just under 25 minutes per game.

Notes

  • Nevada has been a poor shooting team so far this season, as the Wolf Pack have knocked down just 26.7 percent of their threes. Just one player – Tyron Criswell (9 of 20) – is shooting over 30 percent from three.
  • Inside the arc hasn’t been much better for Nevada. Their 44.3 percent mark on two pointers puts Nevada as one of the 75 worst shooting teams from inside and outside the arc.
  • The one positive for Nevada’s shooting is that they don’t get many shots blocked, as they rank in the top 75 in opponents’ block percentage.
  • UNLV is fifth in the country in block percentage and 17th in opponents’ two-point field goal percentage, holding teams to 41.4 percent.
  • Nevada has won three straight games, but sits at 5-8 thanks to an eight-game losing streak. Six of those eight losses came by 10 points or less.
  • Nevada’s leading scorer D.J. Fenner has scored 35 points in the last two games and has gone 16 of 17 at the free throw line.
  • With his 10 points against Kansas, Rashad Vaughn has now scored in double figures in nine straight games and all but two in his college career.
  • However, Vaughn has been a volume scorer, as he takes a lot of shots to get his points and sits at 43.7 percent from the field.
  • UNLV is 0-2 when Chris Wood doesn’t get to the free throw line with losses to Utah and Kansas.
  • Kansas held Wood to eight rebounds, which marks the first time this season that Wood was under 10 rebounds in consecutive games (7 vs Wyoming).
  • UNLV is 2-4 when Wood grabs less than 10 rebounds and 7-1 when he is at 10 more boards.

The game will tip at 8:00 p.m. PST from the Thomas & Mack Center and will be televised on CBS Sports Network. KenPom.com predicts UNLV to win 67-58, and UNLV opened as an 11.5-point favorite.