The Nevada basketball team hosts UNLV on Tuesday at Lawlor Events Center. Nevada Sports Net’s Chris Murray breaks down the game with his three keys to victory and prediction. This feature is presented in partnership with Bradley, Drendel & Jeanney.
UNLV (6-8, 3-4 MW) at Nevada (11-7, 6-5)
When: Tuesday, 6 p.m.
Where: Lawlor Events Center (11,536 capacity; 50 fans allowed)
TV/Radio: CBS Sports Network/94.5 FM
Betting line: Nevada by 4.5; total 142
Three keys for Nevada to win
1. Start fresh: Nevada bushwhacked UNLV, 89-60, on Sunday in the second-largest Wolf Pack rout in this series’ history, but that doesn’t mean Nevada gets to start Tuesday’s game with a 29-point head start. Things are all even again, so Nevada needs to come out with the same mindset and level of execution it had in the series opener. That’s something the Wolf Pack failed to do in an earlier home series against Air Force, which Nevada routed in the first game before suffering a head-scratching loss to the Falcons two days later. The Wolf Pack played its best game of the season Sunday against UNLV, which countered with its worst game of the year. Both of those things won’t happen again, so Nevada has to be locked in mentally for 40 minutes because the Rebels should come out and show some pride after their coach T.J. Otzelberger said “that level of effort and compete is not acceptable” in his program.
2. Make them beat you off dribble: As we pointed out in our first “Three Keys and Prediction” in this series, UNLV’s offense is heavily dependent on the 3-point shot. That’s where the Rebels get 42.2 percent of their points against Division I competition, the fifth-highest figure in the nation. In the first game, Nevada shut down UNLV’s long-range shooters as the Rebels went 8-of-27 from distance. That 29.6 percent shooting from three marked the fourth time this season UNLV has been held below 30 percent shooting from long range. And the Rebels are too limited offensively to beat teams when they have poor shooting nights because they don’t get to the free throw line (just nine free throw attempts against Nevada) and rank 248th in the nation in two-point accuracy (47.6 percent). If the Wolf Pack defends the 3-point line and makes UNLV beat it off the dribble offensively, it will highly leverage the Rebels, especially if the team’s leading scorer, Bryce Hamilton (ankle), is out for a second straight game.
3. Don’t throw the ball away: UNLV doesn’t have many discernable strengths, but one area where it’s above the national average is its ability to create steals. The Rebels average 7.4 steals per game, fourth in the MW. Their 10.4 steal percentage – the means getting a steal on 10.4 percent of the opponent’s possessions – ranks 65th nationally. (Nevada, comparatively, is at 7.4 percent, 270th in the country.) The Wolf Pack started the season with major issues turning the ball over. It averaged 14.3 turnovers per game in its first 10 outings but has trimmed that figure to 11 turnovers per game over the last eight contests. An extra three or four possessions can be big. In the opener against UNLV, the Wolf Pack had just nine turnovers (six of those being UNLV steals), so it was stellar in that department. Given UNLV’s offensive limitations, Nevada being sound with the ball and not giving UNLV fastbreak opportunities off steals is a key, especially early as UNLV will try to get off to a better start after being blitzed early Sunday.
Nevada 77, UNLV 70: Otzelberger gave a fire-and-brimstone press conference after Sunday’s blowout, criticizing the team’s leadership. “There’s such a thing as personal pride, pride in your program, daily habits,” he said. “Our guys have a responsibility to play at a much higher level competitively.” The UNLV coach gave a similar speech after a loss against Pacific last season, and the Rebels responded by winning four in a row and closing the regular season by going 13-6 (it was 4-8 prior to that). We’ll see if Otzelberger’s pointed criticism has a similar impact this year. A lot depends on whether Hamilton plays considering he’s such a big part of UNLV’s offense. If he doesn’t play, David Jenkins Jr., who has run hot and cold this season, must have a big game for the Rebels to pull off the upset. I don’t see this one being as large of a blowout, but I’ll take Nevada to secure its third MW sweep of the season. Season record: 13-5
Columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @ByChrisMurray.