Rebels basketball:

Blog: Rebels close with strong 2nd half for 67-48 season-opening victory

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV forward Roscoe Smith defends an inbound pass from Portland State forward Kyle Richardson during UNLV’s season opener Friday, Nov. 11, 2013 at the Thomas & Mack Center.

Updated Friday, Nov. 8, 2013 | 9:40 p.m.

UNLV vs. Portland St.

UNLV forward Roscoe Smith defends an inbound pass from Portland State forward Kyle Richardson during UNLV's season opener Friday, Nov. 11, 2013 at the Thomas & Mack Center. Launch slideshow »

UNLV 67, Portland State 48

Game over

Khem Birch finished with 13 points and 17 rebounds, Roscoe Smith scored 16 and UNLV used a big second half to pull away from Portland State for a 67-48 victory in its first game of the season.

The Rebels outrebounded the Vikings by nine in the second half while holding Portland State to 25 percent shooting from the field. Portland State didn't shoot well for the entire game, but it was able to stay close because of rebounding. Once that went away and the shot never came around, the Rebels were able to create some breathing room.

Kevin Olekaibe hit a couple of big back-to-back 3-pointers and finished with 14 points on 14 shot attempts. Kendall Smith scored 10 points on 4-for-7 shooting and UNLV forced 20 turnovers.

UNLV returns to the court Tuesday at the Thomas & Mack Center against UC Santa Barbara. Check lasvegassun.com later tonight for a full report from tonight's game.

 

If you think UNLV is banged up, take a look at tonight’s opponent: Portland State will open the regular season without at least three upperclassmen and possibly a fourth in leading scorer and rebounder Aaron Moore.

It’s for that reason that some will expect the Rebels to easily cover their minus-16.5 point spread, yet that would be missing the point. No matter who they’re playing, the Rebels’ focus right now is on themselves and how they’re going to interact with each other on the court. Until they figure that out, almost any team, no matter how injured, has a chance to hang around.

UNLV opens the regular season tonight at 7:30 p.m. against Portland State in the Thomas & Mack Center. The game will stream online at UNLVRebels.com via the Mountain West Network.

The Rebels will be without junior guard Bryce Dejean-Jones (strained hamstring), who may be the leading scorer by the end of the year. Expected to start in his place is senior guard Kevin Olekaibe, who tweaked his groin in the past couple of days. And after missing the second exhibition game with ankle and toe injuries, junior forward Khem Birch will start and hold down the post.

UNLV hopes it’s getting the injury bug out of the way now, because it’s delaying the learning process. Dejean-Jones’ absence creates more opportunities for Olekaibe and freshman Kendall Smith, another guy coming off an ankle injury, but it also means the team can’t practice with its full compliment of players.

Since the first exhibition game a week ago, UNLV coach Dave Rice nearly hasn’t had consecutive days with the same players available for practice. For a team attempting to work in a lot of new players, players that are expected to play a lot of minutes, that’s a problem.

The good news is Dejean-Jones seems likely to return in the next couple of weeks. Once he’s healthy, assuming no one else goes down in that time period, the Rebels can begin to practice and play games with their full complement of players.

Bern’s prediction: The start of this season was always going to be intriguing because of all the new players thrust into the lineup. Based on the two exhibition games we know how much work there is left to do, and without Dejean-Jones the Rebels are missing their leader to help them through it. They’ll win, but it could be another ugly one tonight. UNLV 74, Portland State 62

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

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