For the third consecutive year, Arizona has an opportunity to go undefeated in non-conference play. Standing in the Wildcats’ way is a UNLV team hungry for a defining victory.
No. 3 Arizona makes their trip to Las Vegas earlier than usual to take on a Runnin’ Rebels team in need of a resume booster. UNLV is 7-3 on the season, but all three losses have come against Pac-12 foes.
The most recent, a 59-46 defeat to Utah this past Saturday, was closer than the score indicates. However, the Rebels didn’t have enough depth to slow down the Utes for a full 40 minutes.
Tuesday could offer a similar narrative, as Arizona’s identity centers around its ability to play a complete game. Against UTEP, just like the Gonzaga and SDSU wins, the Wildcats’ defense ended up being too much for the Miners to overcome in the late going.
While no shortage of attention has been given to Arizona’s tireless, in-your-face defense, it’s been the offensive plays that has opened eyes in the past couple weeks.
Over the last five games, the Wildcats are shooting 53 percent from the field. Their .507 shooting percentage on the season is seventh nationally.
For UNLV to slow down this steaming train, it must start at the source: TJ McConnell.
McConnell doesn’t receive all the recognition he deserves, probably because he isn’t enough of a factor scoring the ball. His biggest fault is that he’s occasionally too passive.
But when you have guys like Stanley Johnson, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and Brandon Ashley to pass to, dishing the rock is hardly ever a wrong choice.
The senior point guard is excelling on both-ends, leading the Pac-12 in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.26) and is second in steals per game (2.5).
Cody Doolin, a senior transfer from the University of San Francisco, will be given the unenviable task of trying to contain McConnell.
Doolin runs the point for a team that is loaded with talent at the top but lacks a true rotation. The Rebels go seven deep, at best.
Leading the way is Rashad Vaughn, a former five star recruit and McDonald’s All-American out of Findlay Prep. Despite being inconsistent at times, Vaughn is far and away UNLV’s top scoring threat, which explains why he averages 15 attempts per game.
The freshman is scoring 17.3 points per game but could do more damage if he improves his free throw shooting.
In fact as a team, the Rebels are shooting 59 percent from the charity stripes – 340th nationally.
UNLV’s biggest threat outside of Vaughn is sophomore center Christian Wood, who is averaging a near double-double at 13 points and 9.6 boards per game.
While it wouldn’t be surprising for UNLV to hang around, the Rebels won’t have enough to pull the upset unless they shoot way above their heads.
Facing a defense like Arizona’s, that isn’t a safe bet.