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Instant Analysis: Trying to figure out how important a victory is against UNR in basketball

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV fans jeer as the UNR basketball team takes the court before their game Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013 at the Thomas & Mack.

UNLV vs. UNR - Jan. 29, 2013

UNLV forward Khem Birch grabs a rebound from UNR guard Jerry Evans Jr. during their game Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013 at the Thomas & Mack. UNLV won the game 66-54. Launch slideshow »

Most UNLV supporters despise all things UNR, making the Rebels basketball team’s 66-54 victory Tuesday against the visiting Wolf Pack an obvious good thing.

But, how important is beating UNR in basketball? Trust me, home games against New Mexico and San Diego State next month will be more significant — for the players, a good majority of the fans, and most important, in determining the fate of the Rebels’ season.

Remember, Reno is one of the Mountain West Conference’s bottom feeders and UNLV (17-4, 4-2) hasn’t lost to its rivals from the North since 2005, an impressive streak supporters of the scarlet and gray always refer to after losing to UNR each year in the Fremont Cannon football game. (Let’s not talk about the disappointment in blowing a 17-point halftime lead last fall against the Wolf Pack for a record eighth straight loss in the series).

The bottom line is UNLV players won’t have a massive celebration after this win, and playing UNR isn’t a game circled on their calendars. The rivalry only exists for fans, and until UNR somehow figures a way to bring its program to the level of UNLV’s, it will just be another game on the schedule.

Don’t get me wrong, the near sellout crowd was impressive, especially with the anti-Reno chants in the first half, and there was a buzz in the arena when the game was tight. But for San Diego State and New Mexico on Saturday evenings in February, the Mack will be a madhouse.

Here are some observations from the game:

I’m OK with how Bryce Dejean-Jones plays: I know several are convinced Bryce Dejean-Jones’ shoot-first mentality doesn’t fit into the Rebels’ offense, but it shouldn’t be that big of an eye-sore. Yes, there are times when Dejean-Jones takes a contested attempt way too early in the shot clock to frustrate several. But he’s a pure scorer, and aside from likely NBA Draft Lottery pick Anthony Bennett, the Rebels’ most talented player on offense. He has the ability to carry UNLV on his back — the jumper to beat Air Force or dominating against Cal, for instance. Against UNR, he scored 11 points on 4-of-9 attempts, fitting into the flow of the offense with eight rebounds and four assists. Dejean-Jones plays with a chip on his shoulder and he’s not afraid to take the ball to the basket, or to have ball in his hands with the game on the line. While that sometimes equals an ill-advised shot, UNLV should be willing to take the good with the bad.

Good perimeter defense from the Rebels: In UNLV’s last three wins — two weeks ago at San Diego State, last week against Wyoming and Tuesday against UNR — the Rebels have partially won the game with solid perimeter defense. San Diego State made just 3-of-19 attempts on 3-pointers, Wyoming connected on 3-of-16 attempts and UNR was 6-of-23, including 4-of-16 in the first half. Strong defense leads to easy offensive opportunities, and it’s no secret that UNLV is at its best offensively when playing in transition. Justin Hawkins has to be the first mentioned when talking about defensive success. Not only is he UNLV’s best defender, he definitely needs to be in the conversation for the league’s top stopper. His intensity is contagious with teammates, giving UNLV a mindset on defense that is often overlooked by those highlight-reel style plays on offense.

A small improvement at the line. I think: UNLV almost had another disaster at the free throw line at the end of the game, only making 1-of-6 attempts in the final four minutes. Hawkins and Khem Birch each missed two attempts, bringing some minor flashbacks from two weeks ago when the Rebels went just 5-of-17 in the second half in a too-close-for-comfort overtime victory against Air Force. For the game, the Rebels were 14-of-22 from the line — it was a respectable 13-of-16 until the mess at the end. Simply put, missed free throws at any point in the game, especially at the end, is a formula for defeat.

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

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  1. Mostly I agree. UNR had several wide open 3 pt shots which they promptly sunk. Our perimeter defense can certainly improve by cutting down on those wide open looks. Also, the MW needs to either have their(our)refs go to more school or pay for a better grade of refs. I am not saying UNLV got the short end of the stick last night it just seems this season that some of the calls come out of fantasyland. One of the photos in your story shows Moser blocking a shot from behind and his hand is all ball. True his arm appears to be on the guys head but the shot was blocked in such a way that the guy was pulled back into Moser. Another instance is when Birch went straight up to block a shot and the shooter ran into him. What happened to the principle of verticality?

  2. The reason UNR had more open looks from 3 than most of the teams we play is because they only have two players who are really any good. Outside of Burton and Story, there team is garbage. Everyone knows it, which is why they are struggling so much this year even though they had a solid year last year and returned most of their players.

    UNR shot 25% from 3 last night. We're actually currently ranked 15th in the country in 3pt percentage allowed. That's excellent. UNR only hit 6 three last night, but the game plan was to double Burton and Story and make other players hit shots because if those two aren't scoring in bunches, they will lose.

    As far as the officiating, there definitely were some questionable calls. There was another one where they called Bennett for a foul on a rebound when he was clearly in position and was being fouled himself. Then, of course, he refs come down to the other end and have the wrong player shoot the free throws. Lets not even talk about the UNM game. At this point, you just have to sort of expect it. I do think this kind of garbage officiating hurts MWC teams in the tournament when games are actually called by good refs.