UNLV basketball:

Cal’s guards present great challenge for Rebels on the road

No. 21 UNLV will have its hands full with Justin Cobbs and Allen Crabbe when it travels to play the Bears on Sunday at 3 p.m. on ESPNU

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Steve Marcus

UNLV’s Anthony Marshall is covered by Cal’s Justin Cobbs as he takes the ball down court at the Thomas and Mack Center Friday, December 23, 2011. STEVE MARCUS

They each play about 35 minutes a game, and if a defense isn’t prepared, Cal’s Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs will spend every possible second making that team pay.

The Bears’ backcourt duo efficiently terrorizes an opponent with their prolific shooting. Crabbe averages 22.4 points per game, just ahead of Cobbs’ 18.7. Cobbs’ effective field goal percentage, which gives 50 percent more credit to 3-pointers, is 61.6, just ahead of Crabbe at 60.4. On top of that, both juniors grab about five rebounds per game.

“Crabbe and Cobbs are as good a one-two punch from an offensive standpoint as any two perimeter players in the country,” said UNLV coach Dave Rice, whose team will see Cal (6-1) up close in Berkeley, Calif., on Sunday afternoon at 3 on ESPNU.

No. 21 UNLV (6-1) got its first taste of the road last Tuesday at Portland, where the Rebels had to slug out a 68-60 victory. This trip should trump that one in basically every capacity, from the team on the court to the fans in the stands.

“We’re trying to tell (the new guys) it’s going to be an even tougher environment,” said Justin Hawkins, whose second-half run at Portland was the catalyst to UNLV’s win.

Hawkins knows Cobbs from their AAU days and said they still keep in touch. The two may get reacquainted face-to-face often on the court, depending on how the matchups shake out. Hawkins probably won’t see Cobbs or anyone else exclusively when UNLV is on offense because the Rebels likely are going to see zone defense every game until they consistently beat it.

“We haven’t been able to establish a really good zone we feel comfortable with, but we have a couple of different zones we can play,” Cal coach Mike Montgomery said.

The Bears likely will see how the Rebels perform in the first few possessions against the zone and from that determine how much they want to use that defense throughout the game. Offensive success in the high post could force Cal out of that look very quickly, and UNLV junior forward Mike Moser is hoping he’ll be healthy enough to fill that role.

At Friday’s practice, Moser participated in 5-on-0 drills where the Rebels worked through their offense, but he was held out of live drills. Rice said he’s hoping Moser will be a full participant at Saturday morning’s practice before the team boards a plane bound for California. Moser said he feels much better than he did last week.

Moser’s presence doesn’t immediately solve the problems from that Portland game, but the team’s second-leading scorer could help take some pressure off freshman Anthony Bennett, who’s getting double-teamed and trapped consistently for the first time in a long time.

“I’m not used to it at all, to be honest,” said Bennett, who’s averaging 18.7 points and 7.6 rebounds per game.

At Findlay Prep, opponents couldn’t target Bennett because the Pilots had too many other weapons on the floor. The Rebels believe they have that type of team, too; it’s just taking the new talent some time to fulfill its potential. That’s to be expected, though it’s concerning that this first road game looked a lot like UNLV’s trips at the end of last season. The most apt comparison is the offense neglecting interior looks and taking jumpers early in the shot clock.

“Maybe we panic or maybe we feel like we should shoot the ball because we’re open, but once we work it around the perimeter and go inside-out that’s when we get even better shots and get in our rhythm,” Hawkins said.

Last year at home, the Rebels defeated the Bears by 17. Both coaches said that game has little bearing on this year’s matchup because both teams are so different.

One similarity: Crabbe and Cobbs were Cal’s leading scorers that afternoon.

The Bears lost by 25 last week at Wisconsin, but that’s hardly indicative of how this team is likely to play at home, where Cal hasn’t been since Nov. 13. The Rebels expect their most difficult challenge to date, and the Bears’ guards intend to give it to them.

Taylor Bern can be reached at 948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Taylor on Twitter at twitter.com/taylorbern.

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  1. This is going to be a tough game, but they can beat the Golden Bears. If they win by eight points, like they did against Portland, then they will have played a very good game. The main key for the Rebels is to play patient, which can be a problem for up-tempo teams. Against the Cal zone, unlike the Portland zone, they will have to move better without the ball. The movement against Portland's zone was terrible.