Tucson, AZ (SportsNetwork.com) - On the verge of claiming the top spot in the national polls, the second-ranked Arizona Wildcats welcome the UNLV Runnin' Rebels to the McKale Center on Saturday for a non-conference affair.
Sean Miller's Wildcats have done their part with eight wins in as many game this season. That includes a marquee victory over Duke to capture the NIT Season Tip-Off. The team returned home and opened a three-game homestand with Tuesday's 79-58 rout of Texas Tech.
Dave Rice's Runnin' Rebels are venturing out on the road for the first time this season. Despite a six-game homestand to start the season, UNLV has a mere 3-3 overall mark. The team was able to get back to .500 last weekend, with an 85-55 blasting of UT-Martin.
UNLV has won two straight in this series to take an 11-6 advantage all-time.
The Rebels dominated UT-Martin in just about every facet of the game in a 30- point romp last weekend at the Thomas & Mack Center. UNLV delivered on 55.6 percent of its shots from the floor and owned a 46-32 edge on the boards. Five Rebels notched double figures in the win, while Roscoe Smith posted a double- double with 13 points and 19 rebounds. Bryce Dejean-Jones poured in a team- high 16 points, while doling out seven assists. Khem Birch matched Smith's scoring output with 13 points of his own, while Kevin Olekaibe and Jelan Kendrick finished with 11 points apiece.
The scoring output was a bit above normal for UNLV this season, as the team is netting 71.5 ppg on a modest .428 efficiency from the floor. The shooting woes have carried over to the free-throw line where UNLV is converting just 56.9 percent of the time. The Rebels have however, excelled on the glass, grabbing an impressive 45.2 caroms per game. Four of the five starters are averaging double figures, led by Dejean-Jones (12.8 ppg). Smith is a close second (12.7 ppg) and leads the nation in rebounding (16.2 rpg). Birch (11.0 ppg, 10.2 rpg) is also averaging a double-double and ranks second nationally in blocked shots (3.7 bpg). Olekaibe (12.5 ppg) provides another scoring option from the perimeter.
Arizona is one of the few teams that can match UNLV's physical play inside. The Wildcats hold a massive +14.4 rebounding edge this season and are holding opponents to a meager 59.2 ppg, on .358 shooting overall and just .277 from behind the arc. The Wildcats have had no problem generating offense at the same time, netting just under 80 points per game and shooting .513 from the floor. Veteran guard Nick Johnson has shot the lights out in the early going (.537) and paces the team with 17.1 ppg. Freshman Aaron Gordon has made an immediate impact up front, averaging a near double-double with 13.0 points and 9.1 rebounds per game. Brandon Ashley (11.9 ppg, 6.9 rpg) gives the team another frontcourt option.
The Wildcats got off to a fast start, scoring the first 10 points of the game and used a second half surge to put the Red Raiders away. Arizona shot an even 50 percent from the field, including 10-of-22 from behind the arc in the victory. Gordon had another strong game with 19 points and eight rebounds. Ashley and Johnson both poured in 18 points, with Ashley completing a double- double with 10 rebounds.