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Runnin’ Rebels look to regroup after much needed break

UNLV returns to Las Vegas for five games over a two and a half week period.

NCAA Basketball: UNLV at UCLA Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

UNLV’s ten-day break will end tonight as the Runnin’ Rebels face Pacific. Their last time out was not a pretty one, a 33-point loss in Salt Lake City to BYU. But the long period with no games, and a lot of practice time, might be what UNLV needs to get back on track.

4-7 isn’t what T.J. Otzelberger envisioned through the early stages of his UNLV tenure. After the loss in Salt Lake City, Otzelbeger said he wished he had “a month” break in between games just to practice.

The game was by far the worst loss UNLV has had under Otzelberger. He did not like the effort and energy his team displayed, and said the team had a “non-competitive effort.” And the time at practice gave UNLV time to address its problems.

They have been on the road, at the time of the BYU loss, for a long time. Otzelberger said that practice is the time for his new group to develop habits. Habits that were present in its overtime win against Fresno State, but not at a constant rate.

The Rebels have played four overtime games, and a lot of the players have logged a lot of minutes.

Good news for UNLV is that Jonah Antonio is back from a thumb injury. He has not played since November 18th, and he has been able to practice without any pain for the last three days.

UNLV is still without starting point guard Elijah Mitrou-Long, who was averaging over 12 points per game. With his absence, the team has called upon Vitaliy Shibel and Marvin Coleman in key supporting roles.

Of course, UNLV will still be relying on Amauri Hardy, Donnie Tillman, and Bryce Hamilton to lead the team in scoring. The recent time off will benefit the thin Rebel roster in its final three games of the non-conference schedule.

Upcoming Schedule

Wednesday, December 18th vs Pacific

Saturday, December 21st vs Robert Morris

Saturday, December 28th vs Eastern Michigan

Three Keys for the Runnin’ Rebels

Get Stops

Otzelberger says it all the time, the team needs to get stops on the defensive end. The main reason is UNLV turns its stops into offense. Getting stops and forcing turnovers allows UNLV to get in transition and play its pace. Another reason why getting stops is important is because UNLV has trouble scoring. They are only averaging 68 points per game and limiting points puts less pressure on UNLV to score.

Make Shots

Again, another obvious key, but UNLV has struggled to make shots. They have had open threes and opportunities at the rim, however, they cannot consistently finish. UNLV is 265th in the country in field goal percentage. They lack true scorers that can go out and get a bucket whenever they want. These next three games could be a chance for someone to get confidence and develop as a scorer the Rebels desperately need.

Get Antonio Going

Even before Antonio got injured, his play has been inconsistent. A lot of people look to him to be the knock down shooter for UNLV, but that has not been the case. There were even some games he would be benched for his poor play. If UNLV wants to get back on the winning side, Antonio needs to be producing. The coaches need to develop and call plays to get him in space to shoot. Success for this UNLV team could depend on Antonio’s shooting.

Prediction

These are three games UNLV needs to win. Going 3-0 on the home stand will calm some of the fan base before conference play resumes. The Rebels cannot be caught looking ahead on the schedule and take one game at a time. Especially against Eastern Michigan in the final non-conference game before Utah State. UNLV should have an easy time and win all three of its upcoming games.