Saturday’s win over New Mexico was exactly what the Rebels needed. After dropping a pair of winnable road games to teams in the bottom half of the Mountain West rankings, the convincing 64-55 home victory has UNLV fans hoping that the team has turned a corner.
The Rebels played one of their best games of the season against New Mexico. The defensive pressure was intense for 40 minutes, and the Rebs were able to push the tempo and create easy baskets in the open court. Now the question is, can they take that show on the road when they play at Air Force on Wednesday (6 p.m., Time Warner Cable SportsNet)?
Air Force took UNLV to overtime at the Thomas & Mack Center earlier this season, and the Falcons have gotten better since then. Let’s take a look at some of the keys to the game with a quick Over/Under.
Over/Under: 45.5 percent shooting for Air Force
The Falcons run one of the nation’s more efficient offenses, shooting 48.1 percent as a team and hitting 38.9 percent of their 3-pointers. For the Rebels, the defensive effort will start with Anthony Marshall, who helped hold Air Force top scorer Michael Lyons to 7-for-20 shooting in the first meeting. This would also be a nice time for sixth man Justin Hawkins to regain his shooting stroke, which would allow Dave Rice to play the ace defender for more than six minutes, as was the case against New Mexico. Air Force shot 38.3 percent in the first meeting, and I don’t think home-court advantage will be enough to swing this one. I think it’s staying UNDER.
Over/Under: 12.5 points for Mike Fitzgerald
In the last meeting between these teams, Fitzgerald scored 22 points on 10 shots. The 6-foot-6 forward hit three 3-pointers and went 9-for-10 from the free-throw line, consistently outworking the Rebels inside and outside. Anthony Bennett is the likely matchup, and I don’t see him chasing Fitzgerald around the perimeter effectively, so it will probably come down to whether the Air Force senior can hit his outside shots. For the season, he’s shooting 39.3 percent from behind the arc, so I’m taking the OVER.
Over/Under: 18.5 points for Anthony Bennett
Away from Las Vegas, Bennett has had his share of struggles. He seemed slower and more lethargic in road losses to Boise State and Fresno State, shooting 14-for-32, including 0-for-6 on 3-pointers, and turning the ball over eight times. Bennett looked like a new man against New Mexico, however, running the floor and showing the explosive finishing ability that made him an early-season sensation. So which guy shows up at Air Force? I think he may be finding his stride again after hitting the freshman wall. Give me the OVER.
Over/Under: 6.5 fast-break points for UNLV
It’s been a trying season for the Rebels’ running game, especially in Mountain West play. But they were able to get into transition more consistently against New Mexico, and the results were impressive. And Air Force isn’t afraid to get into a shootout, so there won’t be any massive clash of styles here. But I still have to see the Rebels dictate the pace on the road before I’ll believe they can do it. I’ll take the UNDER to be safe.
Over/Under: 26.5 combined points for Bryce Dejean-Jones and Katin Reinhardt
Dejean-Jones and Reinhardt saw extended playing time in the New Mexico game, and it seemed to help both of them get into an offensive rhythm, as they each scored 16 points. I expect Justin Hawkins to eat into some of those minutes against Air Force, but it might not be a bad idea for Rice to give Dejean-Jones and Reinhardt a little more court time when they have it going offensively. Wing offense hasn’t been a strong suit for the Rebels this season, so getting production from those guys would be a big boost. Still, considering the way the Rebels have struggled shooting the ball on the road, I’d take the UNDER until proven otherwise.
Prediction: UNLV 69, Air Force 63
Player of the Game: Anthony Bennett — 21 points, 10 rebounds, two steals
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