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December 24, 2013

Rebels tame Bulldogs, capture LVC

CONFIDENCE BUILDERS

Four games in six days is complete and the UNLV Runnin' Rebels aren't resembling anything close to what they were just a month ago.

The Rebels transformation continued on Monday night when they obliterated the SEC's Mississippi State. UNLV hit nine three pointers in the first half to open an 18-point lead before coasting down the stretch to win, 82-66.

DeVille Smith, who is a former Bulldog, was the spark once again for UNLV inside of the Orleans Arena. After scoring a season-high in Sunday's victory over Santa Clara, Smith backed up his stellar play with a 15 point and five assist night.

Most importantly, the Rebels have begun to resemble, not only the team that fans had hoped for, but one that plays together. UNLV dished out 16 assists overall, with every player but one that played more than one minute collecting at least one.

That unselfishness has become contagious. The Rebels are looking for one another in almost every instance. They aren't settling for one-on-one moves. They are making plays with the goal of finding an open teammate.

To say that UNLV has come a long way in a short time wouldn't be inaccurate. The Rebels looked lost and confused whenever the season began. Throughout this week, there were very few times where the Rebels of November reared their ugly heads.

Being fair, this wasn't the most top flight competition in the country. Santa Clara and Mississippi State aren't going to be winning any conference championships anytime soon. However, UNLV can only play who is put in front of them on the schedule.

The Bulldogs' strength and frenetic defense would've caused major problems a month ago. The Broncos' solid guard play would knifed through the lane at will a month ago.

There's no doubt that there has been progress. Where it will lead is what all supporters are wondering at this point. We won't have to wait long as UNLV begins conference play one week from Wednesday. It couldn't start soon enough the way the Rebels are performing.

PICK YOUR POISON

There is no confusing it. The strength of this Rebel squad is in the paint. The combination of Khem Birch and Roscoe Smith has never wavered since the beginning of the season. They have continued to play at a high level night in and night out.

Tonight was not different. Roscoe Smith finished with yet another double-double, tallying 12 points and 12 boards. Birch added 11 points and eight rebounds to go along with three blocks.

As those two keep asserting themselves on a continuous basis, the backcourt has started to come into its own. The wing seems to be in good shape now with the combination of Bryce Dejean-Jones and Jelan Kendrick. Point guard has a pair of options in Kendall Smith and DeVille Smith, while guys like Chris Wood and Kevin Olekaibe are always dangerous offensive options.

Olekaibe led all scorers against the Bulldogs with 17 points on just eight shots from the field. That is high production on little volume.

We all knew from the outset this year that the paint would be taken care of. It was all a matter if the guards could keep up with the big men, in terms of how good this team could actually be.

If the perimeter guys can continue their rise at the rate they have been lately, there is no limits where this team could ultimately go.



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