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November 8, 2013

Rebels open season tonight

His players, his style.

The UNLV Runnin' Rebels begin their 2013-14 campaign tonight when they host Portland State. The Rebels' roster is almost completely comprised by head coach Dave Rice recruits for the first time in his three seasons as coach. The lone player that wasn't recruited by Rice is fifth-year senior, Carlos Lopez-Sosa.

With that being said, it's now time to expect UNLV to compete the way Rice has intended them to since his arrival. That means pressing, running and using an extremely deep and athletic roster to overwhelm opponents.

After two close exhibitions, one a win and one a loss, the Rebels have everything to play for beginning tonight against the Vikings. Look for UNLV to be much more determined on the defensive end of the floor against PSU.

MATCHUP TO WATCH

This should be a good one for fans to keep an eye on. Portland State's top player going up against the Mountain West Conference reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Khem Birch.

Aaron Moore, a transfer from San Bernardino JC, was an honorable mention All-Big Sky a season ago after leading the Pilots in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots. Moore is also adept at getting to the free throw line, attempting 118 shots from that spot a year ago.

At 6-foot-8, Moore does the majority of his work in the paint. This should play into the Rebels' hands, though, with Birch lurking around the hoop. Birch had 68 blocks in 26 games last year, while also altering many, many more.

Birch's ability to slow down Moore would give UNLV a huge advantage with Portland State playing without three of its top scorers from last year.

MEMORY LANE

The last time the Rebels and Vikings clashed in a basketball game there were plenty of familiar faces on the sideline.

UNLV defeated PSU that night, 69-54, with Rice as an assistant coach for UNLV and current Rebel assistant, Heath Schroyer, the head coach of the Vikings. Schroyer eventually got PSU rolling when it won the Big Sky conference in 2004, helping Schroyer to build his resume and get the head coaching job at Wyoming.

These two teams have also played the highest scoring game in Portland State history. All the way back in 1976, UNLV defeated the Vikings 129-114 in what had to be a wild affair. Don't look for those types of numbers this evening.

SECRET WEAPON

Without the defensive presence of Bryce Dejean-Jones tonight, UNLV has to find someone that can find a way to contain sharpshooting PSU guard, Gary Winston.

Harris started 17 games last year and shot a very impressive 47% from beyond the 3-point stripe on 83 attempts. He actually shot better from deep than he did overall on field goals.

Look for Kevin Olekaibe to draw Harris on defense. UNLV allowed too many wide open 3-pointers in its two exhibitions. That is one area that will need to be cleaned up through communication and switching effectively. With all the new players on the roster, help defense has to be one of the bigger concerns for Rice and the staff.

PREDICTION

Portland State didn't win a single game on the road in 2012-13, losing in all 14 attempts. Don't expect that to change at the Thomas & Mack Center. UNLV has something to prove to coaches and fans in this one. With a trimmed down rotation, the Rebels should roll comfortably, 88-62.



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