UNLV’s Dejean-Jones could make his season debut against UC Santa Barbara

UNLV coach Dave Rice said the junior guard would suit up but might not be ready to play tonight at 7 against the Gauchos

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Injured UNLV forward Bryce Dejean-Jones smiles while sitting on the bench during the Rebels’ season opener against Portland State on Friday, Nov. 11, 2013, at the Thomas & Mack Center. UNLV won 67-48.

UNLV will have all of its players available for tonight’s game against UC Santa Barbara, but that doesn’t mean the Rebels are at full strength. Such are the uncertain waters the Rebels tread with Bryce Dejean-Jones.

The junior guard was a full participant in practice the past two days, and UNLV coach Dave Rice was pleased with the results.

“When I think about the injury a little more than a week ago and how far he’s come, it’s a credit to Bryce and our medical staff,” Rice said.

Other than the conditioning Dejean-Jones must make up for, he hasn’t been limited by the strained hamstring he suffered in the team’s first exhibition game against Dixie State. Dejean-Jones will dress for the game and intends to play today when the Rebels tip at 7 p.m. against the Gauchos in the Thomas & Mack Center. The game will stream at UNLVRebels.com via the Mountain West Network.

Whether Dejean-Jones actually gets onto the court, though, is undecided. He’s close enough to healthy that both he and Rice are openly talking about the possibility of him playing, but not so healthy that Rice will commit to giving him minutes.

Rice said he wants to see how Dejean-Jones feels after the team’s shootaround Tuesday afternoon.

And make no mistake, unlike last week’s season-opening victory against Portland State, the Rebels could really use Dejean-Jones in this game. That’s because the Gauchos have a veteran team that could give the Rebels all kinds of trouble.

UC Santa Barbara (1-0) returns four regular starters and five guys who started at least one game in an injury-plagued season last year. Leading the way is forward Alan Williams, who had 27 points and 17 rebounds in the team’s 26-point victory last week against Hawaii Pacific.

“It’s a huge challenge for us because of the experience Santa Barbara has,” Rice said.

In addition to Williams, the Gauchos have guards Kyle Boswell and Taran Brown, who combined to average 23 points per game last season. While UNLV is still trying to figure out its preferred lineups and configurations, the Gauchos have been playing with each other for years and have a much better understanding of what their teammates are going to do.

That’s a place the Rebels hope to get to at some point this season, but that doesn’t happen in one game. They need more time and more tests against other teams. This is a good game for early in the season because it’s tough to say how big an advantage the Rebels have with their athleticism versus the Gauchos’ experience.

The difference could end up being UNLV’s interior play, specifically junior Khem Birch. With Birch patrolling the paint, the Gauchos may need to rely more on their outside shooting than inside play. They hit only 5-of-20 3-pointers in last week’s victory.

“There’s no doubt that we trust Khem,” Rice said. “One of our strengths is front-court depth, and we may need it because Williams is a very good player. He’s a prolific rebounder.”

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

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