Rebels basketball:

Battle of elite big men takes center stage with No. 24 UNLV hosting Hawaii

The Rebels’ Anthony Bennett should expect a difficult matchup against the Warriors’ Vander Joaquim, a stout 6-10 junior

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV forward Anthony Bennett puts up a hook shot over UC Irvine forward Adam Folker during their game Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012 at the Thomas & Mack. UNLV won the game 85-57.

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Hawaii center Vander Joaquim (15) goes up for a dunk as teammates Hauns Brereton (21) and Trevor Wiseman (31) and Utah State's Jordan Stone look on during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Jan. 26, 2012, in Logan, Utah.

There may be five guys on the court for each team Saturday as No. 24 UNLV (4-1) hosts Hawaii at 4 p.m., but when they’re in the game the focus will be on just two: the Rebels’ Anthony Bennett and the Warriors’ Vander Joaquim. And lucky for everyone in attendance they should spend a good amount of time going head-to-head.

Hawaii (4-1) comes into the Thomas & Mack Center for the game, which is televised on Time Warner Cable SportsNet, with one of its best front courts in school history. There’s 6-foot-8 forward Christian Standhardinger (15 ppg, 6.4 rpg) and fellow junior Hauns Brereton, a 6-6 forward averaging 13 points and 6.2 rebounds per game.

The attack starts, though, with Joaquim, a 6-10, 245-pound force averaging 15.6 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. He had a double-double in Hawaii’s narrow loss to Illinois.

UNLV coach Dave Rice said one of the keys to stopping Joaquim is not letting him establish himself with deep position.

“We’ve got to do our work before he catches the ball,” Rice said.

And while a lot of that duty will fall on Bennett, Rice emphasized that Joaquim is too talented to guard one-on-one for an entire game. So Bennett should have help on the defensive end, and he can help himself by being the aggressor at the other end. Bennett showed in Wednesday’s game against UC Irvine that he can draw contact while playing strong down low, shooting 9-for-12 from the line in an 85-57 victory.

Bennett won’t always have this type of defensive assignment. Once sophomore Khem Birch becomes eligible in about three weeks it’s likely Bennett will see significantly less time at center, moving instead to more power forward. Still, both Bennett and Rice agreed that the experience has so far been a positive one for Bennett’s offensive game.

“We both feel like it’s helped his development to play more with his back to the basket,” Rice said.

After missing practice earlier this week because of back stiffness, Bennett appears to be close to full health and has no issues heading into this weekend’s game. Ditto for point guard Anthony Marshall, who was having a swelling problem with one of his knees.

Those guys should both be cleared for full participation, and the same is now true of freshman point guard Daquan Cook. Rice’s original plan was to redshirt the Baltimore native this season, although he did say if there were any injuries on the perimeter in the first 10 games he may reconsider. With Marshall’s status uncertain Rice had Cook dress on Wednesday, and after Friday’s practice Rice said that would be a permanent thing, although he’s not guaranteed to play Saturday.

“The redshirt is off of Daquan Cook,” Rice said. “If I don’t play him it’s just a coach’s decision.”

The added depth at point guard should give Rice more of an opportunity, especially early in the year, to rest Marshall, who’s averaging a team-high 31.4 minutes per game.

Leading the team in both points (19.4 per game) and field-goal percentage (56.6) is Bennett. This will probably the greatest defensive challenge of his young career, but that’s fine. Senior guard Justin Hawkins said the Findlay Prep alum is only scratching the surface of what he can do.

“If what Justin Hawkins said is true,” Rice said, “the surface is going to be good.”

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

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  1. I expect Cook to play today if the redshirt is off.

  2. Should be a good game to watch. UNLV is slowly putting things together. I'm going to have to split channels to watch UNLV and Indiana. Both games are about the same time.

    Go Hoosiers !!!!