ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Here is a closer look at five themes to watch Thursday night, when 6-seed UNLV takes on 11-seed Colorado at 7 p.m. at The Pit in Albuquerque, N.M.
1) It starts and ends with Carlon Brown … and his right hand.
Colorado leading scorer Carlon Brown is no stranger to UNLV’s core group of veterans, having played three seasons at Utah before leaving at the end of the 2009-10 season for a better opportunity.
UNLV is catching him on a roll, as Brown was named MVP of the Pac-12 tournament, averaging 15.8 points per game in four wins over four days last weekend in Los Angeles. It’s similar to how Brown played against the Rebels as a junior at Utah, averaging 15.3 points in three meetings.
He’s big, strong, quick and athletic. Brown can take the ball off the bounce from the perimeter, and three steps later be soaring for a momentum-swinging dunk.
Unless UNLV can keep him going left.
“He’s got a strong right hand, so we have to sit on his right hand to make him go left, to make him pass instead of getting to the lane and making buckets,” Anthony Marshall said. “We’ve just got to try to make it tough on him.”
2) UNLV with a front-court advantage?
It hasn’t been all that often this season in which UNLV could claim to have a front-court edge on an opponent. Especially not when star forward Mike Moser wasn’t able to dominate the defensive glass.
But in terms of numbers, UNLV holds an edge here.
Colorado will primarily play three big men. Leading the way is sophomore Andre Roberson, who averages 11.6 points and 11.1 rebounds a game. He was a first team All-Pac-12 performer, but is Colorado’s lone elite rebounder up front.
As is the case for UNLV with Mike Moser.
Those two will likely go to war with one another for the better part of the night, and whoever controls the glass likely gets a leg up in this meeting — and whoever’s guards crash the glass more effectively could have a lot of say there, too.
Colorado ranked third in the Pac-12 in rebounds per game this season at 35.7. UNLV tallied 37.8 per outing.
3) Can you feel it in the air?
It might have an effect on the game, it might not, but UNLV will be playing at 5,000 feet above sea level on Thursday night, while it will be nothing new for Colorado.
That’s not to say UNLV isn’t experienced at playing in the thinner air. The Rebels play multiple games every season in Mountain West Conference action. However, in those four games — at Colorado State, at New Mexico, at Air Force and at Wyoming — the offense stalled in the second half.
In those four games combined this season, UNLV shot 49.5 percent in the first half, but just 31.2 percent in the second half.
In other words, a fast start could prove very valuable for the Rebels.
4) Defend, defend, defend
It’s known how much different a team UNLV can be when it hunkers down on the defensive end, successfully pressures in the backcourt and doesn’t give up anything easy.
The same goes for Colorado.
Despite preferring an uptempo pace and claiming that they will try to run with UNLV, the Buffs tied for first in the Pac-12 in field goal defense, allowing opponents to shoot just 40.6 percent on the season.
Both teams should be able to push the pace on one another, but once the teams get into their half-court sets, whoever denies offense better gets a definite leg-up.
5) The x-factors
For UNLV, it’s going to be senior forward Chace Stanback.
The 6-foot-8 gunner finished the season as UNLV’s second-leading scorer, but a lingering knee injury slowed him down the stretch, and in the Rebels’ last four games, he’s only scored 24 points off of 9-of-27 shooting. In those four games, twice he’s played fewer than 20 minutes, which he’d only done once in the previous 29 contests.
The key for him being effective is the Rebels getting him involved early. Despite his late-season struggles, he’s still a remarkable 46.4 percent 3-point shooter this season. If they can get him in the flow of the offense in the game’s first six minutes, he could make a big impact.
On the other side, Colorado senior point guard Nate Tomlinson will play an integral role in this contest.
He only scores 5.8 points per game and averages just over three assists despite playing 29.6 minutes a night. But what he does well is not turn the ball over, with only 54 cough-ups in 34 games this season.
UNLV will try to force him into mistakes, and if he gives away possessions at mid-court, the Rebels will capitalize in transition and could create a margin on the scoreboard in a hurry. If Tomlinson can maintain his composure and avoid a bevy of turnovers, Colorado can definitely make this one a game for the long haul.