Rebels basketball:

Blog: Air Force takes down UNLV as a 14.5-point underdog

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV guard Bryce Dejean-Jones offers a different opinion to a referee after being called for a foul against Air Force during their Mountain West Conference game Saturday, Jan. 4, 2014 at the Thomas & Mack Center.

Updated Saturday, Jan. 4, 2014 | 9:14 p.m.

UNLV vs. Air Force: Jan. 4, 2014

UNLV forward Chris Wood buries his face in a towel during their Mountain West Conference game against Air Force Saturday, Jan. 4, 2014 at the Thomas & Mack Center. Air Force upset UNLV 75-68. Launch slideshow »

Air Force 75, UNLV 68

Game over

Bryce Dejean-Jones missed two free throws with 20 seconds left and the Rebels trailing by one, and UNLV lost to Air Force at home despite Dejean-Jones' career-high 28 points. After Dejean-Jones' misses, UNLV had to foul and ended up losing 75-68.

The loss snaps UNLV's winning streak at seven and drops the Rebels (10-5) to 1-1 in league play. Air Force is now 2-0 in the Mountain West, winning games as a eight-point and tonight as a 14.5-point underdog.

Kevin Olekaibe scored 13, but he and Dejean-Jones were the only Rebels in double figures. Despite a significant size advantage, Khem Birch and Roscoe Smith combined for only 12 points. Air Force actually led points in the paint by 12 (36-24).

The bottom line is UNLV didn't play good enough to win. The Rebels allowed Air Force to run its system on offense and helped them on defense by attempting 21 3-pointers (and making only six).

The Rebels' winning streak was built against inferior opponents. Air Force seemed like another one of those, but coach Dave Pilopovich's teams usually play UNLV tough. Tonight the Falcons played like the better team most of the way and they were rewarded with a win while UNLV must go back to the drawing board with a home loss does serious damage to an already weak NCAA Tournament resume.

Check lasvegassun.com later tonight for a full report from the Rebels' loss.

 

UNLV’s season is moving squarely in one direction: up. The Rebels will have a chance to keep that momentum and their seven-game winning streak going today in the conference home opener against Air Force (7-5, 1-0).

The game tips off at 7 p.m. and will air on Cox96.

Since a Dec. 7 loss at Arizona, UNLV (10-4, 1-0) has won in dominant fashion. Every victory has been by double digits, with last week’s conference opener at Fresno State (13) being the slimmest margin.

Today, the Rebels are 14-point favorites, which may test their streak of 10 straight covers, according to Vegasinsider.com. Two big reasons for that are Roscoe Smith and Bryce Dejean-Jones.

Smith leads the nation in rebounding (13.1 per game) and is tied for the most double-doubles in the country (10). Meanwhile, Dejean-Jones has woken up with 21.5 points per game over the past two.

Although those guys have been the catalysts, the reason for fans to hope these good teams last beyond the weak part of the schedule is UNLV’s depth. Guys such as Kevin Olekaibe, Jelan Kendrick and Christian Wood seem capable of leading the Rebels for long stretches on any given night right now. That gives everyone confidence that UNLV could weather some poor performances and still pull out victories.

At least for now. Things ramp up with a Jan. 15 trip to New Mexico, and the best thing UNLV could do to prepare is to keep things moving up.

Bern’s prediction: Ray Brewer did a remarkable job in this section during my bowl-related absence. He nailed the score perfectly against Fullerton and then correctly called that the Rebels would cover and go under the total at Fresno State. Since he was so successful, I’m stealing his results to use down in the records portion. I don’t recommend betting based on our predictions because we’re bound to return to the mean at some point, but if you’ve gone with us so far, feel free to send a percentage to the Sun offices. UNLV 83, Air Force 63

Season: ATS 11-3, O/U 10-4

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

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