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September 3, 2014

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Ray Brewer: From the Pressbox

Ray Brewer:

Instant Analysis: After watching UNLV handle Cal, I’m making a bold prediction for the rest of the season

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Steve Marcus

UNLV’s Chace Stanback signals after hitting a 3-pointer in the first half of the Rebels’ game against California on Friday, Dec. 23, 2011.

UNLV beats Cal, 85-68

UNLV's Chace Stanback signals after hitting a 3-pointer in the first half of the Rebels' game against California on Friday, Dec. 23, 2011. Launch slideshow »
The Rebel Room

Rebel Room — UNLV storms past Cal

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Las Vegas Sun reporters Taylor Bern and Ray Brewer discuss the UNLV basketball team's 85-68 victory against Cal. The Rebels built a 20-point lead by halftime in improving to 13-2 on the season.

This might sound crazy, but …

It’s not too far-fetched to think the UNLV basketball team could win 30 games this year. Seriously.

As witnessed in a 85-68 victory Friday against Cal at the Thomas & Mack Center, the Rebels are clicking on all cylinders, and seemingly every player has confidence in his game. In the first half alone, the Rebels put up 46 points and led a quality Cal team by 20 points at the break.

The No. 21 ranked Rebels improved to 13-2 on the season — a mark even the most optimistic supporter couldn’t have expected. They have neutral-court wins against North Carolina and Illinois and two wins against Pac-12 Conference opponents.

Here’s my logic on reaching 30 wins. Let me know if I’m wrong.

With the exception of road games at San Diego State and New Mexico, the Rebels will be a betting favorite in 15 of their final 17 regular-season games. After watching the Rebels dismantle Cal, there is very realistic chance UNLV won’t lose at home — next week against Central Arkansas and seven Mountain West Conference games. That brings the win total to 21.

Don’t get me wrong, winning on the road in the Mountain West will be difficult and something the Rebels have struggled with in recent years. They’ve even struggled away from Las Vegas this year.

Wyoming, Colorado State, TCU and Boise State each play tough at home and will be fired up to play UNLV. Like BYU and San Diego State last year, the Rebels’ ranking will continue to improve weekly, putting a bigger upset target on their backs when playing on the road against the league’s middle-tier teams.

Still, at the very least, UNLV should win four of seven road games in league. That brings the win total to 25 — if not more.

That should give them a No. 4 or 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament, where winning two games to reach the Sweet 16 also isn’t out of the realm of possibility. I know this must sound too good to be true.

But if the Rebels win two or three games in the league tournament on their home floor and two games in the NCAA Tournament, they’ll hit the magic number of 30. That would be a tremendous feat for first-year coach Dave Rice.

Cal (10-3) was supposed to put up a better fight, but UNLV was in control from start to finish. While the Rebels’ run-and-gun offensive style has produced several highlight-reel style plays and much excitement, it’s the defense that continues to be key.

If the Rebels are to reach that magical 30-win mark, the defense will have to continue its dominating performances. With about eight minutes remaining Friday, Cal was shooting just 29 percent, with the Rebels defense creating several easy scoring opportunities in transition.

The confidence the Rebels are playing with surely makes them dangerous.

From Chace Stanback and Mike Moser draining 3-pointers with no hesitation to Brice Massamba hammering home a dunk with authority and Anthony Marshall aggressively taking the ball to the basket, the Rebels looked like a team that can threaten reaching 30 wins.

Maybe I’ll be wrong. But in a season that has already featured some memorable wins, don’t be surprised if the excitement carries into March.

Ray Brewer can be reached at 990-2662 or [email protected]. Follow Ray on Twitter at twitter.com/raybrewer21.

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