Riding the Wave

The Rebels look to continue building momentum against Hawaii

UNLV played one of its most complete games of the season in Saturday’s 85-57 dismantling of UC-Irvine, but there’s no time to rest with Hawaii coming to town on Saturday. The Rainbow Warriors are 4-1, with their only loss coming in overtime to a good Illinois team. They also present some interesting matchups for UNLV.

Here are five keys to watch as the Rebels try to build on their recent momentum in their final game at the Thomas & Mack Center until Dec. 19.

1. The blueprint
The Rebels appear to be settling into a defined offensive game plan, with Mike Moser and Anthony Bennett being the dual focal points. Hawaii isn’t a small team, but Moser and especially Bennett should be able to win physical battles around the basket. Look for UNLV to pound the ball inside early, force Hawaii to eventually commit more defenders to the middle, and then exploit perimeter mismatches later in the game. Simple, but effective.

2. Post defense
This game could turn into an up-and-down shootout unless UNLV can protect the middle against the best interior scorer they’ve faced all season. Hawaii center Vander Joaquim is averaging 15.6 points per game, and the 6-foot-10 junior can present problems if the Rebels allow him to get rolling. Bennett rates out as one of the top post defenders in the country (he allows his matchups to shoot just 23.1 percent in the post, according to Synergy data), and he figures to draw this assignment, with help from Quintrell Thomas. If they can combine to keep Joaquim in check, Hawaii’s offense won’t be nearly as effective.

3. Boxing out
The Rebels have had problems on the offensive glass, but it isn’t always opposing big men doing the damage. Guards and wings have had success slicing into the lane to pick off offensive boards, and Hawaii is capable of exploiting that. Guard Brandon Spearman and forward Hauns Brereton have to be accounted for, and Dave Rice has stressed defensive rebounding in recent practices. Guys like Bryce Dejean-Jones, Savon Goodman and Katin Reinhardt can’t watch the rebounding action — they’ve got to find a man and box him out.

4. Ride the Wave
UNLV hasn’t been able to rev up its fast break recently, but the Rebels are capable of breaking out of the slump at any moment. The Rebs spent a substantial portion of Friday’s practice working on their transition attack, and Rice has proven that he can correct problems on the fly this season. Even if UNLV doesn’t put up a huge amount of fast break points, it would be nice to see a more organized, efficient open-court attack.

5. New contributors
Freshman Savon Goodman has made an impact in each of the last two games, so his progress is worth keeping an eye on. He gives UNLV an added dimension off the bench and makes the Rebels too deep for Hawaii to keep up with, so if he plays well I would expect UNLV to roll. In addition to Goodman, watch out for freshman point guard Daquan Cook. Rice said Cook is no longer redshirting, so expect him to get some minutes on Saturday. There’s no doubt Cook needs to get bigger and stronger, but he’s got good court vision and his passing ability could really help the second unit.

Prediction: UNLV 90, Hawaii 73
Player of the Game: Anthony Marshall — 12 points, 10 assists, 2 steals

Follow Mike Grimala (@MikeGrimala) on Twitter for 24/7 Rebels updates.

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