The UNLV Runnin’ Rebels aren’t off to the best of starts, with a lack of continuity coming as a result of so many new pieces working to mesh together and some key personnel issues. Leading returning scorer Bryce Dejean-Jones’ return from a hamstring injury didn’t help UNLV against UCSB on Tuesday night, with the Gauchos meeting little resistance in their 86-65 win at the Thomas & Mack Center.
And on Friday head coach Dave Rice has to piece together his third different starting lineup in as many games, as junior guard Deville Smith is out with a sprained MCL. With Smith out of the lineup freshman Kendall Smith (no relation) will get the start at the point against Omaha, playing alongside Fresno State transfer Kevin Olekaibe and Dejean-Jones on the perimeter.
But even with the inability to put together a stable rotation due in part to the health issues, that’s no excuse for the way in which the Runnin’ Rebels played on Tuesday according to Rice.
Rice said he was “very stern” with his players before going back to the chalkboard and schooling a relatively young team that lacks game experience.
“There’s still no excuse for our effort on Tuesday,” Rice said after mentioning injuries to Dejean-Jones, Deville Smith and freshman reserve Chris Wood. “The next day, we watched film and I got after them pretty good. There was a lot of teaching to do.”
Through two games UNLV’s shooting just 39.7% from the field, and the biggest problem against UCSB was their poor play defensively. The Gauchos shot 55.8% from the field, scoring 1.28 points per possession and assisting on 48.3% of their made baskets. The offense isn’t always going to be there, especially when considering both who UNLV lost from last season’s team and the many new faces they have to mesh together, but this group is (in theory) good enough to hold its own defensively.
The good news for UNLV is that they’re just two games into the season, and they’ll have multiple opportunities to pick up quality win both in non-conference play and in the Mountain West. But UNVL won’t be able to take advantage of the upcoming opportunities if they defend at the level they did on Tuesday.