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Nevada vs UNLV: Three keys to victory and a prediction

Kane Milling
Kane Milling and the Wolf Pack take on UNLV on Sunday and Tuesday. (Nevada athletics)

The Nevada basketball team hosts UNLV on Sunday 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 (6-7, 3-3 MW) at Nevada (10-7, 5-5)

When: Sunday at 6:30 p.m.

Where: Lawlor Events Center (11,536 capacity; 50 fans allowed)

TV/Radio: FS1/94.5 FM

Betting line: No line listed yet

Three keys for Nevada to win

1. Make them score on non-threes: In its games against Division I opponents this season, 42.3 percent of UNLV’s points have come from beyond the arc. That’s the seventh-highest mark in the nation. The Rebels are heavily reliant on the 3-point shot. They attempt 27 threes per game, hitting them at a solid but not spectacular 36.2 percent clip (and that’s 34.9 percent against D-I foes). UNLV does not get to the free throw line with just 13.1 attempts per game versus D-I opponents, eighth worst in the nation. The Rebels aren’t great at driving the ball and don’t have much in the way of traditional post scorers. You take the 3-pointer away from UNLV, you typically win the game. Nevada faced an opponent like that earlier this season in a game against San Francisco, which ranks third nationally in highest percent of its points coming from the 3-point line (45 percent). The Dons made 15-of-34 threes against Nevada in a 25-point rout. The Wolf Pack must do a much better job of taking away UNLV’s offensive strength.

2. Get more balanced scoring: The silver lining from Nevada’s 93-88 loss to Wyoming last time out was the balance it had offensively. The Wolf Pack had seven players score at least seven points, with four reaching double-figures. And that was without the team’s third-leading scorer, Zane Meeks (knee), who is expected to play this week. Nevada can’t full rely on Grant Sherfield and Desmond Cambridge to carry all of the scoring load. Tre Coleman has been more aggressive of late, which is a good sign. Warren Washington, when not in foul trouble, is a good offensive player. Nevada will face a UNLV defense that artificially looks good. The Rebels hold opponents to 40 percent shooting, which ranks 43rd nationally. But when you take away UNLV’s non-DI opponents, that rises to 43.3 percent. And when you take away its two games against New Mexico, that rises to 45.1 percent. This is to say when UNLV has played competent D-I programs, opponents have had success attacking the Rebel defense. That can be true for Nevada if the Pack has a balanced attack and gives Sherfield some help since UNLV will almost certainly double him off screens.

3. Late-game execution: Chances are both games in this series will be close. UNLV is ranked 141 in the NET rankings; Nevada is 142. UNLV is 122 in KenPom; Nevada is 124. Don’t expect a blowout in either game. Nevada hasn’t fared well in close games in MW action. All five of its losses have been decided by seven points or fewer, and all five of them hung in the balance with two minutes or less remaining. Nevada simply hasn’t been able to execute well enough, either on offense or defense, to convert those close games into victories. It will have to do so against UNLV, which is 1-3 in games decided by four points or fewer this season, so the Rebels have had their problems here, too. UNLV picked up its first such win with a three-point decision over Utah State on Monday. Late execution will be crucial.

Prediction

Nevada 73, UNLV 70: These should be two-flip games, so you’d assume a series split. I’ll give the first game to Nevada, which has the home-court advantage, if that’s worth anything. The Wolf Pack also has been off for a week while UNLV is playing four games in nine nights. The Wolf Pack getting swept would be demoralizing and set up an incredibly tough gauntlet to close the campaign. The best is Steve Alford figures out a way to scheme UNLV off the 3-point line and Nevada does enough offensively to score a close victory in the series opener. Season record: 12-5

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