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Jordan Cornish celebrates a Pat McCaw three late in the second half of Wednesday's game against Colorado State (Photo: Jeremy Rincon)
Jordan Cornish celebrates a Pat McCaw three late in the second half of Wednesday's game against Colorado State (Photo: Jeremy Rincon)

Backcourt and Defense, taking form coming into rival week

By Manny Vieites
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After two huge back to back conference wins at home, UNLV has proven to not only the conference but to themselves that they can make a run in the Mountain West. Following the news that they would continue the season without Ben Carter and Stephen Zimmerman, the game plan for the Rebels can change on a nightly basis.

The Rebels had a rough awakening in the first half of Wednesdays game against San Jose State when three point baskets didn’t come easy and points in the paint were at a season low.

Now, with that half as an example of how bad things could really get for the Rebels, Saturday against Colorado State was the time to put the teachings to the test.

UNLV learned that three point shooting was not going to give them the advantage they needed on the offensive end after shooting 4-20 in Wednesdays win. With Derrick Jones and Dwayne Morgan playing more of an inside role this allowed the three point shooting to open up for the Rebels on Saturday.

Ike Nwamu shoots over a Colorado State defender in the first half of Wednesday's game (Photo: Jeremy Rincon)

Ike Nwamu shoots over a Colorado State defender in the first half of Wednesday’s game (Photo: Jeremy Rincon)

Although the threes began to fall for the Rebels, shooting 32% for the game, the offensive intensity was where it should have been to start Wednesdays game. The Rebels backcourt combined for a total 66 points in Saturdays 87-80 win against Colorado State, which is a step up from last games 36 point performance from the backcourt.

The Rebels offense was more aware of the types of possessions that they needed to grab their second consecutive win, this meaning points in the paint and transition baskets.

55 of the Rebels points came from baskets not created in the half court set, coming from points off turnovers, free throws and in the fast break.

The Rebels converted 22 points on 12 steals complementing the defensive game plan that coach Todd Simon put forth.

“Our players stuck to the defensive game plan, playing a full 40 minutes of aggressive in your face defense,” said Simon. “We’re aware that this intensity is going to be needed in our pursuit of fast break points.”

Interim Head Coach, Todd Simon (Center), addresses the team during a timeout during the second half against Colorado State (Photo: Jeremy Rincon)

Interim Head Coach, Todd Simon (Center), addresses the team during a timeout during the second half against Colorado State (Photo: Jeremy Rincon)

Two Key takeaways from Saturdays win

Morgan and Jones learned how to play through foul trouble to give the Rebels the inside presence that is required. Sophomore guard, Patrick McCaw, was forced to play some five on the defensive end when both Jones and Morgan were on the bench with three fouls early.

“This is a great learning experience for Derrick and Dwayne,” said Simon. “ They’re learning how to play through foul trouble at the right time.”

The second key takeaway is how early the Rebels were able dominate the game on the defensive end. The rebels will have the depth and the advantage at the 1-3 position over most of the teams in the Mountain West but things change down low in the paint.

Ike Nwamu battles for a loose ball with a Colorado State defender during the first half (Photo: Jeremy Rincon)

Ike Nwamu battles for a loose ball with a Colorado State defender during the first half (Photo: Jeremy Rincon)

Colorado State is a guard-orientated team which the Rebels were able to dominate those matchups. The Rebels came out in a man-to-man defensive in Saturdays game knowing that the matchups were in their favor, as opposed to Wednesday’s game where the guards and big men of San Jose State had the advantage with their size.

Moving forward the team will decide what the best defensive strategy is based on the opposing teams lineup. With not having big men, this forces the Rebels to use a 2-3 defense against bigger teams and a man defense on the smaller teams that they can dominate.

The Rebels will look to extend their winning streak to three games this coming Tuesday against Air Force, who sits at the bottom of the conference at (3-10).

In the previous matchup on January 16th , UNLV put the hurting on Air Force 100-64. Some may say this is a runaway game, however, this will be another true test on the road as the Rebels have traditionally struggled in Colorado Springs.

Dwayne Morgan (15) looks for space against an Air Force defender during their matchup on January 16, 2016 (Photo: Jeremy Rincon)

Dwayne Morgan (15) looks for space against an Air Force defender during their matchup on January 16, 2016 (Photo: Jeremy Rincon)

This can be an easy game to overlook with rival Nevada coming to Vegas next Saturday in a rematch where the Rebels will look to get revenge after falling to the Wolf Pack 65-63 in Reno. Players should use this coming game in Colorado Springs as another opportunity to exploit their new game plan.

Now that things are different for the Rebels the style of play will differentiate from the previous matchups that they have faced so far in conference play.

Look for the Rebels to push the ball in the post against Air Force to gain the confidence in Morgan and Jones, as this will be a much-needed facet come Saturday against Nevada.

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