Rebels basketball:

Control without sacrificing aggression the goal for UNLV’s Dejean-Jones

The sophomore guard came up big in the Rebels’ first game against Air Force, and he goes into the second meeting off a stellar performance

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV guard Bryce Dejean-Jones reacts after the Rebels recovered a loose ball against New Mexico Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013 at the Thomas & Mack Center. UNLV beat New Mexico 64-55.

LasVegasSun.com Sports Talk

That time of year

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With the Super Bowl in the rearview mirror and another week until a big UFC card, this show is all Rebels basketball as Las Vegas Sun reporters Ray Brewer, Case Keefer and Taylor Bern break down the up-and-down week that was and what it may mean for the future.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Most conversations about Bryce Dejean-Jones inevitably involve some type of metaphor.

This is common in sports, though it seems to come up more with Dejean-Jones, the Rebels’ often chaotic and sometimes fantastic sophomore guard. The comparisons range from spot-on to silly, and you can take them wherever you like.

For example: His motor, an asset and a favorite phrase of college basketball coaches, often runs too high to keep the car moving forward safely. Sometimes it veers off the road, possibly into a field inhabited by a horse that’s strong and talented enough to win a race if only it wasn’t so wild. For advice on the balance required to manage that aggression, why not ask the gymnast doing flips on a beam?

How about a wild horse on the balance beam instead? Sure.

The odds of that bucking bronco carrying anyone across the beam are slim, but when he does, it’s spectacular theater. The guy directing that horse — let’s call him UNLV coach Dave Rice — can’t feel entirely confident about making a successful journey every time. But Rice said it’s easier to work with the guy trying to jump and sprint across that beam than the one who needs to be talked into getting up there in the first place.

“(Dejean-Jones) is fearless, and yet sometimes that can be a weakness,” Rice said. “He tries to make plays in transition or tries to make plays down the lane and spins. For him to be able to take some of those high-risk plays out of his game without taking away his confidence is a huge key.”

Whatever you want to compare him to, Dejean-Jones is an asset the Rebels (18-6, 5-4) will need Wednesday at Air Force (14-8, 5-4). The game tips at 6 p.m. Las Vegas time on Time Warner Cable SportsNet.

It was Dejean-Jones who saved UNLV in the teams’ first meeting. He sent the game to overtime on two free throws with 36 seconds left and scored eight points in the extra session, including the decisive jumper with about 12 seconds remaining.

Since then, Air Force moved into NCAA Tournament consideration with a five-game winning streak, including victories against San Diego State and Boise State, and its success doesn’t contain an ounce of fluke.

“This is the best Air Force team in a number of years,” Rice said.

In conference games, the Falcons lead the league in field goal percentage, free throw percentage and 3-point field goal percentage defense. They also rank second in 3-point shooting percentage with a league-leading 7.4 made 3-pointers per game.

“They’re not the traditional Air Force team,” UNLV senior guard Anthony Marshall said.

The traditional Air Force ranked last in the league in points per game last season, averaging less than 60 in Mountain West games. This version scored 91 and 90 points in back-to-back victories to start that streak, and Air Force averages 0.2 points per game less than UNLV with 66.2 in league games.

And just as the Rebels lost to a highly motivated Boise State team last week, they now face the equally desperate Falcons, whose backs are against the wall after losing by 23 at New Mexico and blowing a sure victory at UNR.

“We’re using the term Challenge Week,” said Air Force coach Dave Pilipovich, who’s in his first full year as the Falcons’ coach after taking over at the end of last season.

UNLV Runnin' Rebel Bryce Dejean-Jones

UNLV guard Bryce Dejean-Jones drives to the basket against North Carolina during their game Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012 at the Dean Smith Center in Chapel Hill, N.C. North Carolina won the game 79-73. Launch slideshow »

After the UNLV game, Air Force hosts Colorado State. A couple victories would look very good on a tournament resume while a pair of losses could drop the Falcons from consideration.

That’s not the Rebels’ concern, though. Having lost three straight road games and six of the last nine, they have their own problems to worry about.

For what could have been the 100th time in the past two years, players were asked after Monday’s practice about what they need to do to succeed on the road. The answers have never differed much, though the emphasis shifts depending on the most recent outing.

Asked if his much-discussed edge was the thing missing from the team away from home, Dejean-Jones disagreed, saying consistency is more important.

“We just need to play harder through adversity,” he said. “We can’t let things in the game affect how we play at either end of the court.”

Dejean-Jones isn’t exempt from that criticism, though his mistakes are rarely because he wasn’t trying hard enough. In fact, it’s usually the opposite.

“We need more guys who bring the same passion he brings,” Rice said.

There’s a balance in there somewhere, one Dejean-Jones already has been inching towards. In conference play, his average points, rebounds and field-goal percentage are slightly up while his fouls are down. Against New Mexico he had 16 points, nine rebounds and one turnover.

Should UNLV need a late-game hero again against Air Force, Rice knows he won’t have to talk Dejean-Jones onto that beam. And lately, he’s got to be a little more confident about getting across it with a victory.

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

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  1. Once again, the Rebels are saying all the right things. Lets see if they go out and win a game on the road that they should win. No more talk boys, we want to see it in action. Runnin' Rebels!

  2. No more talk is right gumby, the time is now and no more excuses from Rice, if you dont have your team ready for March by now your in big trouble? I think they may have found something in the rotation let hope so. GO REBS

  3. A loss at AFA probably means NIT...

  4. Bryce Dejean-Jones is at his best on offense coming off of ball screens and posting up on the right-side low block. He can create off the dribble, but he's too often out of control.

    I expect the Rebels to win tonight. They're the better team, and I think they have a lot of confidence coming off the victory at New Mexico.

  5. Road woes have been a huge issue the last few years. You'd expect tougher games, but pulling out victories with the talent UNLV has. I hope they get this wiin at AF, but I'm not gonna hold my breath with the altitude, trouble on the road, and a veteran AF team.

  6. Uh ohhh , road game. I like the comments about the fact that they should win because they're the better team and not sure about the altitude being a problem. Hey, they're not playing in Denver altitude shouldn't be a factor, and of course they were the better team against Boise and Fresno too but nooooo they just couldn't do it. Air Force by 6 , Hope I'm wrong like the UNM game.

  7. "Hey, they're not playing in Denver altitude shouldn't be a factor." The altitude at the AFA is listed at 6200', Google Earth shows the elevation at Clune Arena at 7083', Denver is listed at 5183'; so evidence based facts would tell us that indeed, (1) the Rebels are not playing in Denver, and (2) the altitude in Denver is not the same as that of the AFA. It is suggested that visitors to the area stay well hydrated and not over exert themselves. Go (slow) Rebels!!!

  8. As Tark once said..."I don't know why they are making such a big deal about the altitude. We are playing indoors." Gotta love that guy!

  9. Altitude means much more to someone suffering from asthma, as Bennett does. No way around that.