JONESSING FOR MORE - The starting lineup for UNLV looked like early December and not late January on Tuesday night. Though it was for different reasons, both Quintrell Thomas and Bryce Dejean-Jones looked comfortable back in that position.
Thomas started because Khem Birch didn't make a flight back to Las Vegas in time to catch the Sunday evening practice. And Thomas didn't mind at all, picking up right where he left off against Wyoming, which was his best game of the season.
He only saw the floor for 11 minutes but his production was solid against the Wolf Pack, mustering six points and four rebounds in the limited action.
Starting in place of Mike Moser, who head coach Dave Rice said likes his versatility coming off the bench, Dejean-Jones had one of his more impactful games of the year with 11 points, eight rebounds, four assists and two steals. Coincidentally, those look like the type of numbers the Rebels were expecting to get from Moser on a nightly basis.
While Thomas will probably head back to the bench and allow Birch to start next game, Dejean-Jones may have put a firm grip on where he falls in the rotation. Moser came off the bench and had three points and seven rebounds in 23 minutes.
As the year has progressed, Dejean-Jones, who was mired with turnover and bad shot problems at a time, has slowed his game down and had less poor decisions. When he plays under control, there's no doubt that he's one of the better Rebels on the floor.
BORDER PATROL - Birch said that it was a delay at the border that held him up and forced him to miss Sunday's practice but he wanted to show the coaches that he was a "good guy" with his performance against UNR.
There's no denying he's a "good guy" to have on the basketball court.
After suffering through his worst game of the year against a rugged Wyoming club, Birch was back on top of his game and doing what he does best - posting numbers in all the statistical categories.
The Canadian big man finished with an impressive 14 points, seven rebounds, three steals, two blocks an assist, and most importantly, no turnovers.
He even showed off a deft touch from outside the paint with a short jumper that hit nothing but net. Teammates Anthony Marshall and Dejean-Jones said after the game that they have to almost force Birch to shoot because he's so unselfish.
Birch's ability to get up and down the floor also gave UNR problems. Though Marshall didn't get the ball to him as much as he would've liked, Birch gives you that dimension that opposing teams need to prepare for.
For much of the game, Birch looked like the best player on the court.
OFFENSIVE DILEMMA - There was plenty of talk prior to the season of how the Rebels were going to get up and down the floor in a hurry and make opponents pay for not being as deep and conditioned as themselves.
Fast forward to near February and UNLV is looking more and more like its comfort zone is in the halfcourt rather than the fullcourt.
Is that a bad thing? Probably not, considering that most games in the month of March are played in that setting. Actually, it could be more beneficial to the overall outcome than attempting to race up and down the floor on every possession.
There are really two factors holding the Rebels back from being that "running" team that they are perceived to be.
First, UNLV has to be able to force teams into more mistakes while on defense. The Rebels simply don't force enough turnovers and bad decisions from opposing teams to get out on the break much. This is something that Rice said needed to definitely improve.
Secondly, the Rebels need to do a better job of securing a defensive rebound and throwing an outlet pass that could fuel the break. It is few and far between where the Rebels actually look to push the tempo after a missed shot.
As this young roster continues to grow this year, there's still time to morph into the fast breaking club that UNLV is striving to be. There just needs to be a dedication to the process which we have only seen on the practice floor.
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