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Nevada at UNLV: Three keys to victory and a prediction

Lindsey Drew
Lindsey Drew and the Wolf Pack take on rival UNLV on Wednesday night. (Byrne Photo/Nevada athletics)

The Nevada basketball team plays at rival UNLV on Wednesday. Nevada Sports Net’s Chris Murray breaks down the game with his three keys to victory and prediction.

Nevada (15-10, 8-5 MW) at UNLV (12-13, 7-5)

When: Wednesday, 7 p.m.

Where: Thomas & Mack Center (19,522 capacity)

TV/Radio: None/94.5 FM

Online: ESPN3.com

Betting line: UNLV by 1.5 points

Three keys for Nevada to win

1. Curtail the offensive rebounds: Nevada beat UNLV by 14 points in their first matchup, and the only reason it was that close was because of the Rebels’ offensive rebounding. UNLV grabbed 18 offensive rebounds (compared to 24 defensive rebounds for Nevada), so it hauled in nearly 43 percent of its missed shots. That led to a 21-6 edge for UNLV in second-chance points. That was no surprise. The thing the Rebels do best is grab offensive rebounds. They rank 15th in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage, grabbing 33.8 percent of their misses (so UNLV was nearly 10 percent better against Nevada, a good defensive rebounding team). The goal is 12. Nevada must keep UNLV to 12 offensive rebounds or fewer (the Rebels average 12.6 per game) and C Cheikh Mbacke Diong to three of fewer.

2. Crush them from three: Given how poorly UNLV shoots threes (31.4 percent, third worst in MW), the Rebels take quite a few of them (23.2 per game, sixth most in MW). Nevada held the Rebels to 7-of-25 shooting from three (28 percent), out-scoring its rival by 12 points from beyond the arc in their first game. The goal Wednesday is a double-digit lead from three for Nevada, which shoots the third-most 3-pointers per game in the MW (25.9 per game). UNLV hasn’t been much better from three in its wins (31.9 percent) compared to its losses (30.9 percent), but it has taken more shots from beyond the arc in losses (24.4) than wins (21.9). Nevada must defend the three well, but don’t be surprised if the Pack plays some zone to bait UNLV to takes threes, although that can compromise your offensive rebounding.

3. Don’t let Hardy, Hamilton get off: UNLV’s top-two scorers are Bryce Hamilton and Amauri Hardy. Hamilton averages 14.9 points and Hardy is at 14.1. Fourteen seems to be the magic numbers for these guys. When both players score 14-plus points in the same game, UNLV is 5-1. When at least one doesn’t hit 14 points, UNLV is 7-12. Hamilton and Hardy are similar players, and the Rebels have had difficulty getting both in a groove in the same game. But when they have hit their season averages, UNLV has been really good. The Rebels’ only loss when both scored 14-plus points actually came at Nevada, but that was because everybody else on the team was abysmal. Hamilton (26) and Hardy (23) combined for 49 points on 19-of-38 shooting. The rest of UNLV’s players tallied 23 points on 4-of-26 shooting. Nevada can’t bank on that again, so holding one of Hamilton or Hardy to a poor game would be advised.

Prediction

Nevada 82, UNLV 77: The marks the third straight time the Wolf Pack has ventured on the road as a moderate underdog, and I picked Nevada to win the first two (and was wrong). In my defense, Nevada had the game at Colorado State wrapped up before crumbling late and I didn’t know Jazz Johnson wasn’t going to play at Boise State. But I’m going back to the well once again picking Nevada to win away from home as a betting-line dog. The Wolf Pack has to win one of these games, right? Well, I guess it doesn’t, but Nevada needs a split of its two upcoming road games (at UNLV and then at New Mexico on Tuesday) and the Wolf Pack has had way more success at Thomas & Mack Center than the Pit. Nevada has won its last four games at UNLV and six of its last seven on the road against the Rebels. This feels like the slightly more winnable of Nevada’s two upcoming road games. I’ll take the Wolf Pack by five. Season record: 20-5

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