UNLV basketball:

UNLV on track for big Mountain West opening clash at San Diego State

Rebels have three more non-conference games, starting Wednesday against Central Arkansas at the Mack

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Steve Marcus

UNLV’s Oscar Bellfield is covered by Cal’s Justin Cobbs as he takes the ball down court at the Thomas and Mack Center Friday, December 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.

When UNLV basketball players and coaches pull up their chairs for a holiday dinner this weekend, they will do so knowing they earned their place at the table.

The Rebels are in the middle of their first four-day span without a game this season. And they entered that break with a nice appetizer: an 85-68 home victory against California on Friday.

“It’s a good way to close out the pre-Christmas schedule for us,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said. “We challenged our guys to come back when we go to practice on Monday night and continue to get better.”

Based on the first half against the Bears, that will be quite the challenge.

The 21st-ranked Rebels (13-2) played nearly perfect in the first 20 minutes, shooting 54 percent from the floor, including 45 percent behind the three-point line, dishing out 14 assists and forcing eight turnovers. The result was a 20-point lead that only grew until the waning minutes.

After the game, several players rushed to the airport to catch flights to their homes across the country. When he was made aware that this is UNLV’s first four-day break, senior Chace Stanback smiled.

“We’re cool with it,” Stanback said. “Trying to get home and see our families, then get back and go to work.”

Junior guard Anthony Marshall said he and his teammates probably wouldn’t stray too far from a gym while away. That’s because the hard work still lies ahead.

And it picks up Jan. 14 at San Diego State.

“There’s nothing more important than doing well in the NCAA Tournament because of the nature of what we do, but I think one of the things that’s happened is that regular-season conference titles have been become a little bit devalued,” Rice said. “And there’s nothing more important to a program in terms of proving consistency than winning regular-season conference championships.”

UNLV has three more games in its non-conference schedule: Wednesday at home against Central Arkansas (5-6), New Year’s Eve at Hawaii (6-5), and Jan. 5 at Cal State Bakersfield (6-6). The Rebels will be big favorites in each one of those games.

Meanwhile, the Aztecs (11-2) also have three very winnable games leading into the Mountain West opener for both teams.

“We know we have to get a lot better to get ready for that opener at San Diego State,” Rice said, “so we’ve got three games and a lot of practices to do that.”

That game, scheduled for a 1 p.m. tipoff, will be San Diego State’s sixth in a row at home. The crowd will be hostile and ready to pounce on every Rebel misstep.

But thanks to a strenuous non-conference road this season, that’s old hat for UNLV.

With Rice’s point about regular-season conference titles in mind, the UNLV schedule to this point has been perfect for the team. The Rebels won’t likely face anything in the Mountain West that they haven’t already come across.

“Our goal is to win the conference title,” Marshall said. “Just the schedule we’ve had, we’ve played teams that like to slow it down and we’ve played teams that like to play fast. We’ve seen a little bit of everything.”

And they’ve fared well against it all.

“It’s not enough just to play those games, we need to win a number of them,” Rice said. “And we’ve been able to do that.”

UNLV has put itself in good position nationally. Now it’s almost time to handle the conference business they’ve been working for.

Taylor Bern can be reached at 948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Taylor on Twitter at twitter.com/taylorbern.

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  1. The Aztecs have always been a PITA. It's time to let them know the road to the Big Dance runs thru Vegas and there is a roadblock in place.

  2. Pretty sure we only have two losses. Great job rebels let's keep the train rolling!

  3. UNLV is 13-2

  4. Yes, the SDSU game will be big. But lets remember that Hawaii beat a very good & 14th ranked Xavier team at home last week. There will be plenty of time to hype the SDSU game...so lets just hope the guys dont fall into the same trap the local media obviously has in looking ahead. Take'em one at a time & handle our biz!

  5. Djonian hit the nail.....the Hawaii game has TRAP written all over it........Big Big game in my opinion.

  6. Beat San Diego State Rebel's

    football team can't but Runnin Rebel basketball will

  7. It will be fun to see how the Rebels respond to the increased intensity of conference play.

    I think the game vs. Hawaii is being a little overblown, as Xavier was just terrible in the entire Maui Invitational. Hawaii has some talent and can beat the Rebels if they come out flat, but I honestly don't see them as being much of a threat.

  8. Hasn't Xavier's recent skid also been due to the absence of some key players due to suspension after the Cincinnati brawl?

  9. As fans, we may be "looking ahead" to San Diego St, but our players will not be. I think Coach Rice has done a great job with this team thus far and has probably instilled a mentality that the "next game" at hand is always the most important.

    That said, the Hawaii game still scares me. Yes, their win over Xavier should have an asterisk next to it, but Xavier was still technically ranked. And I hope none of our players are feeling super jet lagged from the trip.

  10. Actually, the two Xavier starters suspended, Lyons & Holloway, both were back and played in the Hawaii game. The other two kids suspended were a frosh & a walk on...so Hawaii beat them at full strength. And as proven at Wich St & Wisc... we are not good enough to just show up on the road and win. Thus,I can wait till after the new yr to get my SDSU hype on.