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November 11, 2013

Old rivals to tangle

This one is never easy.

The going will get a little tougher for the UNLV Runnin' Rebels (1-0) when they face one of their long-time nemesis tomorrow night,UC Santa Barbara (1-0). The former Big West rival has had about as much success as any team the Rebels play in the non-conference, even at the Thomas & Mack Center.

The Gauchos have been victorious in their last two trips to Las Vegas, narrowly edging UNLV in both 2010 and 2006. The Rebels got the last laugh in the series when Chace Stanback hit an unforgettable 3-pointer to send the game into overtime before UNLV won a hard fought battle, 94-88 behind Mike Moser's 34 points.

Some of the Rebels' best battles over the years in the Big West was in this matchup. Those have continued despite the two teams not meeting annually any longer.


Bryce Dejean-Jones is apparently well enough to go after resting his hamstring over the last week. After a workout where Dejean-Jones felt fine, it was determined that he is ready to return to the court, even though his conditioning may be a little bit behind where it should be.

His addition to the line-up will be welcome to a roster that still lacks punch from the perimeter. The combination of Roscoe Smith and Khem Birch showed in the season opener that they will be formidable from a rebounding and scoring standpoint. It will be consistency from the outside that will make or break this team.

Dejean-Jones was having an awesome preseason before his injury. In practices and the first 10 minutes of the exhibition against Dixie State, Dejean-Jones has clearly been the type of shooting guard that Dave Rice envisioned whenever he recruited him following his departure from USC.

At best, Dejean-Jones has NBA first round draft pick potential. At worst, he will still be a top two or three off-guard in the Mountain West. Having him healthy is critical to UNLV's success throughout this season.


And this is why Rice gets paid the big bucks - for decisions like the one he's going to have to make sometime soon about what to do with Jelan Kendrick and Kevin Olekaibe.

I can make a case for each of them to start. I can make a case for each of them to come off the bench. And those would probably be strong cases, too. Rice has to make the ultimate call on this one, and he has to be thinking about what's best for the team over the long haul this year.

Do you want Olekaibe in there to start and help stretch defenses, while also keeping defenses honest with Dejean-Jones? Do you begin the game with Kendrick to give you the penetrating, slasher from the wing that can do a little bit of everything on the floor?

How much are psyches factored into this equation? This is Kendrick's last gasp as a collegian. He needs this chance in a major way. This is also Olekaibe's first chance and only chance to play in front of his family and friends.

See, this is going to get tricky.

My recommendation would be to bring Olekaibe off the bench in a role where he is counted on to bring the energy and scoring. He could team up with freshman Kendall Smith and sophomore DaQuan Cook to form a very nice change of pace backcourt six or seven minutes into each game.

Regardless, both Olekaibe and Kendrick are going to be counted on heavily to contribute all year. As long as both understand that, Rice's decision just became a little bit easier, no matter which way he leans.



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