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Jalen PoyserExpectations were about as low as possible for UNLV entering Saturday’s matchup with fifth-ranked Duke as an underdog of more than 20 points. But the Rebels still managed to underperform by getting crushed 94-45.

Duke had the best five players on the floor at all times during the game. UNLV didn’t belong on the court with the Blue Devils.

Only Jalen Poyser reached double figures for UNLV, while Grayson Allen went off for Duke. A candidate for national player of the year, Allen dropped 34 points on 12 of 16 shooting including this monster dunk.

Aside from the score, highlight plays like Allen’s slam truly set Duke apart from UNLV. Duke will do that to a lot of teams this season. But UNLV never made Duke sweat. The best stretch for the Rebels was an 11-2 run late in the first half that cut Duke’s lead down to 12.

But Duke answered with the last four points of the second half to take a 42-26 lead into the break. The second half only got worse as Duke made 70 percent of its shots and whipped the Rebels 52-19 over the final 20 minutes.

The lackluster result sours the memories of UNLV vs. Duke. The defining moments of the Runnin’ Rebel basketball have been against the Blue Devils. The 1990 National Title that saw UNLV destroy Duke 103-73, which was followed by the 1991 Final Four meeting where Duke ended UNLV’s unbeaten season.

Pointing to the Walk On

UNLV turned the ball over on four straight possessions early in the first half; Duke built an 18-3 lead with fast break dunks off those turnovers.

So Marvin Menzies turned to walk-on Larry Bush to play point guard against the best team in the nation. Bush seemed to calm UNLV down. The length and speed of Duke flustered the Rebels usual point guards, Jalen Poyser and Jovan Mooring, who committed 8 of UNLV’s 21 turnovers.

“Larry’s been grinding in practice. He just shuts his mouth and does what he is supposed to do,” Marvin Menzies said. “I felt like (Jalen) was struggling a little bit, and (Jovan) was struggling a little bit getting us all in sync. Part of that was the ball pressure. Part of that was things that we didn’t do.”

Bush had played a total of seven minutes in just two games prior to Saturday. He played nine in first half against Duke. Overall he scored 4 points and did not turn the ball over in 12 minutes of action.

The point guard situation is going to creep up as an issue throughout the year. Poyser and Mooring aren’t true point guards. Duke’s pressure defense is the most difficult day Rebel point guards will have. But UNLV’s guards struggled handling South Alabama’s aggressive ball screen defense in the season-opening loss.

The best point guard on the roster is Jordan Johnson, who is sitting out this year after transferring from Milwaukee. Johnson was second in the nation in assists per game at 8.1 last season and should provide an upgrade at the point next year.

Eyes on the Mountain Top

“Listen, this thing is about competing in conference,” Menzies said after the loss to Duke.

That could be the motto for every team in the Mountain West, as only Nevada seems to have a realistic case at an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.

But for UNLV, the NCAA Tournament isn’t even the goal this season. After the 49-point beat down from Duke, the question is how well will UNLV compete in the conference. The best peak into the Menzies era will be how this team plays in the Mountain West.

Winning conference games is what Menzies did at New Mexico State. His final four years saw the Aggies go 52-10 in WAC regular season games. He won’t be replicating that winning percentage anytime soon at UNLV, but the objective is to get UNLV to the top of the Mountain West.

Currently, Ken Pom has UNLV favored to win just 5 of the 18 Mountain West games on the schedule. Only San Jose State (206) has a worse Ken Pom rating than UNLV (196) right now.

Cheick this out

Freshman Cheickna Dembele has been limited to just five games (none of which he’s played double digit minutes) by injury this season. His best attribute is rim protection, something UNLV sorely misses.

Amile Jefferson has been one of the top 10 players in the country this season. While Duke provided most of the highlights, Dembele met Jefferson at the rim and turned him away.

Upcoming week

This week brings two games for UNLV. First a home game on Wednesday against Incarnate Word of the Southland Conference. The Cardinals are 5-3, but have just one win over a Division I team on the season. Ken Pom gives UNLV a 77 percent chance to win.

But it is just a seven percent chance to knock off Oregon on Saturday. It’ll be another game in a massive arena (Moda Center in Portland) against an extremely talented team. The goal may simply be to keep the Ducks within 49 points.

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