Arizona Basketball

UNLV hoping Arizona Wildcats have heads in “White Out” clouds for game Saturday

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The UNLV Running Rebels have the Arizona Wildcats where they want them: With Arizona on the verge of a top ranking in both the Associated Press and USA Today Coaches polls.

The Rebels, who are 3-3 with an 86-65 home loss to Cal-Santa Barbara on their ledger, are hoping the Wildcats have their head in the clouds with the UA’s “White Out” promotion when they play Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at McKale Center. Make no mistake about it: The second-ranked Wildcats (8-0) are playing a driven UNLV program that was a No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament last season.

With top-ranked Michigan State losing to North Carolina on Wednesday, Arizona could be the new No. 1 for Monday’s poll. The last time the Wildcats were No. 1 was 11 seasons ago on March 10, 2003.


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ArizonaLogo logo.unlv

Arizona (8-0, 0-0 Pac-12)
vs. UNLV (3-3, 0-0 MWC)

Tip: 3:15 p.m., Tucson time
Television: ESPN2 (Roxy Bernstein/Miles Simon)
Radio: Arizona IMG Sports Network (Brian Jeffries/Ryan Hansen)
Satellite Radio: Sirius 136; XM 195
Rankings: Arizona – No. 2 AP Top 25/No. 2 USA Today Coaches Poll; UNLV – Not ranked in either

UNLV coach Dave Rice knows how to beat a No. 1-ranked team, or at least one in position to be the top-ranked team. UNLV upset No. 1 North Carolina 90-80 on Nov. 26, 2011. That upset, however, was in Las Vegas in the championship of the Las Vegas Invitational at Orleans Arena.

Former UConn starter Roscoe Smith said earlier this week that Arizona should be intimidated by UNLV

Former UConn starter Roscoe Smith said earlier this week that Arizona should be intimidated by UNLV

“It’s a great opportunity and a huge challenge,” Rice told the Las Vegas Review-Journal of the matchup with the Wildcats. “Arizona is a national championship contender, without question.”

Rice’s team, which is playing on the road for the first time this season, also lost to ASU and Illinois at Thomas & Mack Arena. The Rebels must contend with one of the nation’s top defensive teams.

Arizona ranks No. 13 nationally allowing only 59.4 points a game. The Wildcats rank No. 7 by allowing opponents to shoot only 35.3 percent from the floor. The Wildcats are also outrebounding opponents by 13.6 per game, which ranks fourth nationally.

UNLV’s strength is its frontcourt with juniors Roscoe Smith and Khem Birch posting impressive numbers. Smith is the nation’s leading rebounder at 16.2 per game and Birch is the nation’s No. 2 shot blocker at 4.7 per game.

Smith, 6’8″ and 225 pounds, started for UConn’s national title team as a freshman in 2010-11. He had four points and five rebounds in 29 minutes against Arizona in the Huskies’ Elite Eight victory that season.


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“We definitely think we can hang with them,” Smith told the Review-Journal. “We’re the underdogs in some people’s eyes, but we’ve got confident guys.”

The Smith-Birch tandem will be a challenge for Arizona sophomores Kaleb Tarczewski (team-high 14 blocks) and Brandon Ashley (63.2 percent field-goal shooter). The player who gives the Wildcats a decided advantage is 6’9″ Aaron Gordon when matched against UNLV’s three-guard lineup.

Former USC starting guard Bryce Dejean-Jones, 6’5″, will be matched against Gordon.

Gordon is averaging 13 points and 9.1 rebounds. UNLV may resort to a hack-a-Gordon strategy, sending the touted freshman to the free-throw line, where he is converting only 48.8 percent of his shots.

“(Gordon’s) on his way to getting better, he just needs to stay with it,” Arizona coach Sean Miller told reporters after Tuesday’s victory over Texas Tech at McKale Center. “He’s a great player and one thing about him is he works really hard and he’ll improve.”

Arizona suffered a 74-72 overtime loss to UNLV in the last meeting in 2009 at McKale Center, but the Rebels were ranked 24th at the time while the Wildcats were playing their seventh game under Miller. The Rebels lead the series 11-6 with UNLV also winning at Thomas & Mack in 2008, the same day the UA football team beat BYU across town at the Las Vegas Bowl.


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PP: Productivity Points (Points, assists, rebounds, steals, blocked shots, FGs made, FTs made added together and then subtracted by missed FGs, missed FTs, personal fouls and turnovers)
MIN: Minutes played overall
PR: Productivity rating per minute played (Productivity points divided by minutes played)

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[/ezcol_1half_end] publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He also writes articles for Bleacher Report, Lindy’s College Sports and


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