GMG - Las Vegas Weekly

March 6, 2014

Las Vegas Weekly

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Page 48 of 67

PHOTOGRAPH BY SAM MORRIS A& E | SPORTS UNLV's chances of playing in the NCAA Tournament will come down to winning three or four straight games in the Mountain West Conference Championship, depending on where the Rebels fi nish in the league standings. It's not the outcome the program expected, but with the tourna- ment played in its home arena, winning the thing isn't out of the question. The Rebels last won the crown in 2008—here are three keys to doing it again this season. Keep opponents guessing. The Rebels recently played a full game of zone defense, by far the most Rice has run in his time at UNLV. Whether it took the players this long to excel in the zone or Rice simply wasn't comfortable with it yet, the Rebels' 2-3 defense with athletic players fi lling passing lanes always seemed like it could be an asset. Now we have evidence that it both works pretty well and gets the Rebels excited. When they're not thinking as much, the Rebels have more energy to focus on offense, which seems to matter to this team. It would be benefi cial for UNLV to throw both man and zone defens- es at their opponents to keep them on their toes. Get the ball inside. Khem Birch and Roscoe Smith are tre- mendous assets in the Mountain West. UNLV tends to forget this sometimes. Birch is averag- ing basically a double-double in league games, and although his offensive arsenal hasn't devel- oped much since last year he's still a great defender who fi nishes well at the basket and runs the fl oor well. And while Smith is a defensive liability, he can clean up well around the rim. Other guys, like Bryce Dejean-Jones and Deville Smith, can lead the team for stretches, but if the Rebels are going to rattle off three (or four) straight wins it's going to be because their bigs, especially Birch, carried them there. Stay healthy. Obviously this is mostly out of the Rebels' hands, but if they're going to make a run they can't afford to be missing any key pieces. Freshman Christian Wood didn't play last weekend because of fl u-like symptoms and Roscoe Smith was expected to miss the home fi nale against San Diego State because of a concus- sion. UNLV needs those two at full strength and has to hope that no one else goes down. MOUNTAIN WE ST CONFERENCE CHAMPIONS HIP March 1215, times & prices vary. Thomas & Mack Center, 7393267. LAST CHANCE Three things the Runnin' Rebels must do to win their way into the Big Dance BY TAYLOR BERN > HOOP DREAM S The Runnin' Rebels still have a shot at the NCAA Tournament. & | 49_Sports_20140306_ML.indd 49 3/5/14 3:04 PM

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