UNLV basketball:

Notebook: Dejean-Jones leads Rebels in scoring despite benching

Bryce Dejean-Jones scores a game-high 16 points while pair of UNLV freshmen get their feet wet in first road game

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV forward Chris Wood and guard Kendall Smith defend Arizona guard T.J. McConnell during their game at the McKale Center in Tucson Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013. Arizona won the game 63-58.

UNLV vs. Arizona

UNLV guard Bryce Dejan Jones steals the ball from Arizona guard Gabe York during the first half of their game at the McKale Center in Tucson Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013. Launch slideshow »

Bryce Dejean-Jones, who scored a game-high 16 points on 6-of-16 shooting, came off the bench because he was a few minutes late to a meeting Friday, coach Dave Rice said after Saturday’s 63-58 loss at No. 2 Arizona.

While the team was still in Las Vegas, the Rebels gathered for a film session and Dejean-Jones was a little tardy, drawing the slight punishment. He entered the game at the first media break and played 30 minutes.

Dejean-Jones and former Rebel Savon Goodman faced similar discipline last year at Air Force when both came off the bench — that was Goodman’s normal role — after arriving late to the team bus.

Freshmen duo has memorable, if not great, road debut

Playing in his first career road game, freshman forward Christian Wood matched his career high with 14 minutes he played. He logged the same amount in last week’s victory against UT Martin.

Wood came off the bench for Khem Birch, who picked up three fouls in the first half. Overall it was a rocky outing for Wood, highlighted by a banked-in 3-pointer for his only points. He also had one rebound, one steal and a turnover.

Wood was behind his peers in the preseason because of a hand injury and then an illness. He’s still catching up, but the recent playing time suggests Rice is committed to giving him a chance. Neither senior Carlos Lopez-Sosa or freshman Jamal Aytes, two other options in the frontcourt, played against Arizona.

While Wood’s debut returned mixed results, freshman Kendall Smith was playing very well until leg cramps forced him to the sidelines for the final 10 minutes. He was efficient with six points 3-of-5 shooting in 23 minutes and didn’t seem to shy away from the defensive challenge. Only two players finished with a positive +/- — meaning UNLV scored more than Arizona while they were on the court — and Kendall Smith was the best at plus-six.

The disparity between UNLV’s performance before and after he left only strengthens his hold on the top point guard spot. The Rebels led by one when he exited and then got outscored 11-5 the rest of the way.

Arizona will move to the top of the polls

Because of top-ranked Michigan State’s home loss to North Carolina earlier this week, this game was Arizona’s shot at the No. 1 ranking in both the AP and Coaches polls. A lot of coaches downplay the significance or that top spot but Arizona’s Sean Miller has embraced the number all week.

He was the same after the victory, when it was all-but-guaranteed to be theirs. Kentucky, ranked No. 3 in the AP poll, also lost this week.

“We have to enjoy being No. 1,” Miller said. “… There’s not a player, coach or even our fans that doesn’t want to say they’ve watched or participated or were a part of the number one team in the nation. How long we have that is not up to us.”

In theory that’s true, but as long as Arizona keeps winning it’s going to be tough for anyone to usurp them.

Rice thinks Rebels are past free-throw woes

UNLV was the worst free-throw shooting team in the country through the first four games. Since then the Rebels have hit 73 percent at the line (40-of-55) including 80 percent in Saturday’s loss.

“I think the free-throw situation is a thing of the past,” Rice said.

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

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