Starting Five: UNLV opens home MWC slate against TCU

Sandwiched between two of its marquee games of the Mountain West Conference season, 14th-ranked UNLV returns to the Thomas & Mack Center on Wednesday night for its first home game since Dec. 28.

The Rebels (16-3 overall, 0-1 MWC) will host TCU (10-6, 0-1) at 7:30 p.m. in an effort to even out their league record before welcoming red-hot New Mexico into the Mack on Saturday night.

Here is a closer look at the Starting Five for Wednesday night …

1) Home cookin’

UNLV doesn’t necessarily need to duplicate the offensive onslaught that was its 124-75 blowout of Central Arkansas the last time it played on its home floor, but it must perform better than it did on Saturday at San Diego State.

The Rebels were far too reliant on the 3-point shot against the Aztecs’ four-guard lineup, and ended up shooting under 40 percent from the floor for only the second time this season.

A matchup with TCU appears to be the perfect elixir for UNLV’s weekend issues, as the Horned Frogs rank 233rd in the nation in scoring defense, allowing opponents to score 69.6 points per game.

2) A Thorn(s) in UNLV’s side

The focal point on the TCU side will be Las Vegas native Hank Thorns Jr., the Horned Frogs’ star senior point guard.

Thorns has become a more efficient scorer in his second and final season at TCU, averaging a team-high 13.1 points while improving both his field goal (38.2) and 3-point (37.2) percentages from last season.

However, in exchange, he’s more turnover prone than he was a year ago. After averaging seven assists and 2.6 turnovers per game last season, he’s now at 4.8 and 3.1, respectively. Before registering five giveaways in the team’s 95-89 loss at Colorado State on Saturday, he did have 25 assists and only three turnovers in the team’s previous four games, which could be a sign that he’s turning things around.

At just 5-foot-9, Thorns is lightning-quick and should be able to keep UNLV’s guards on their toes all night.

3) The right matchup for Stanback

UNLV senior forward Chace Stanback has had some of his roughest outings in his three seasons as a Rebel against SDSU, and Saturday was no exception.

On the other hand, he’s had some of his best against TCU.

After going 3-for-9 from the floor and scoring only seven points against the Aztecs, he’s in need of a slump-busting performance. Since the first half of the Rebels’ New Year’s Eve victory at Hawaii, Stanback has struggled to get into a groove.

He figures to get plenty of long-range looks against the Horned Frogs on Wednesday, and in four career games against TCU, he’s 30-of-46 (65.2 percent) from the floor and 10-of-16 (62.5) from deep, scoring 18.5 points per outing.

4) What went right on Saturday?

Despite all of the things that went wrong for UNLV in its narrow loss to SDSU, UNLV did out-rebound the Aztecs, 41-31.

Within that number, the Rebels gathered 18 offensive rebounds—yes, they did miss 44 shots—and limited SDSU to only three offensive rebounds off of 31 misses.

A performance like that against TCU could lead to a dominating, double-digit win.

5) TCU’s x-factor

Getting increased minutes as the season has worn on is the program’s point guard of the future—freshman Kyan Anderson.

He’s responded well in certain spots, too.

The 5-foot-11 Fort Worth native is averaging 6.8 points per game and has played at least 20 minutes in each of the team’s last seven games. In that stretch, he’s shooting 43.8 percent from the floor with 21 assists.

He’ll get plenty of action in this game, and when he’s on the floor at the same time as Thorns, it makes for a tough, undersized duo that can hold its own in an up-and-down game.