UNLV basketball:

Blog: Rebels take down Aggies with overpowering second half

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John Zsiray / Associated Press

Utah State’s Preston Medlin lines up to shoot over UNLV’s Kevin Olekaibe and Christian Wood (5) during an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014, in Logan, Utah.

Updated Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014 | 2:55 p.m.

UNLV Defeats Utah State

Utah State coach Stew Morrill, left, talks with Jarred Shaw, who walks off the court during an NCAA college basketball game against UNLV, Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014, in Logan, Utah. Launch slideshow »

UNLV went into halftime with a two-point deficit and a lot to work on. The Rebels came out with a new mentality and an attacking style that led to a 73-62 upset today against Utah State.

Kevin Olekaibe led the way with 21 points, the majority of that coming in the second half. UNLV started to run a lot more after the break, and it found Utah State out of position on a lot of those drives.

The Rebels also did a much better job keeping the Aggies off the offensive glass. USU had 13 offensive rebounds at halftime, and that number dropped drastically the rest of the way.

Check lasvegassun.com later for a full report from today's UNLV victory.

UNLV 59, Utah State 50

6:51 remaining in the second half

The Rebels have controlled this entire second half by getting out and running, and that tactic has them up nine with less than 7 minutes to play.

Utah State doesn't have the athleticism to keep up with UNLV on the fast break, and now that the Rebels are taking advantage of that with drives to the rim instead of pull-up 3s, they're finding a lot of success.

Utah State 31, UNLV 29

Halftime

Khem Birch and Bryce Dejean-Jones each have nine points and UNLV fought back in the final couple of minutes to keep its halftime deficit at only two points today in the Smith Spectrum.

The Rebels are 2-for-11 on 3-point attempts, but they’re actually shooting 10 percentage points better than Utah State for the game. UNLV is hitting 44.4 percent while Utah State is at 34.3.

The Aggies attempted eight more shots than did the Rebels mainly because they grabbed 13 offensive rebounds. That’s a lot for an entire game, let alone a single half and Utah State has turned that into 12 second-chance points.

Jarred Shaw and TeNale Roland lead the Aggies with eight points each. Meanwhile, Birch has five blocks to go with his nine points and four rebounds. He’s been the most consistent presence for either team at both ends today.

UNLV’s top priority has to be keeping Utah State off the offensive glass. That’s an unacceptable number to give up. Second on the list has to be our old friend shot selection. UNLV is shooting way too poorly from outside and too good inside to keep chucking like this.

It’s amazing that that even needs to be said at this point. I feel like I could just copy and paste that sentence into 90 percent of the Rebels’ halftime updates.

Utah State 24, UNLV 22

3:54 remaining in the first half

Khem Birch is getting pretty much whatever he wants down low with nine points that have come in a variety of ways. The rest of the Rebels, however, can’t get anything going. Luckily for them, Utah State is sluggish as well.

There have been a lot of deflections and blocks in the middle of the lane from both sides, cutting off drives to the basket. That plus some ugly jump shots have kept the score low.

UNLV 10, Utah State 9

11:16 remaining in the first half

Khem Birch is cleaning up the glass and and the Aggies have hit the occasional 3-pointer, but for the most part this is a war of attrition early at the Smith Spectrum.

Utah State has had some good looks not fall, while UNLV is mostly misfiring on jumpers. Another misfire was Deville Smith being late for the team bus, which put Daquan Cook in the starting lineup. This is at least the fourth time something like that has happened this season, and it’s an absolute embarrassment. Being on time should not be this hard.

• • •

Better than most, UNLV coach Dave Rice knows how difficult it is for opponents to win at the Smith Spectrum. From his days as a UNLV player and assistant to one season as a Utah State assistant and a couple of winless trips on the BYU staff, Rice is well aware of the challenge ahead today.

Utah State coach Stew Morrill is gunning for his 600th career victory this afternoon, which would make him the 14th active Division I coach to reach that plateau. In nearly 16 full seasons at Utah State, Morrill has lost only 25 games at the Smith Spectrum. The game tips off at 1 p.m. Las Vegas time and will air on CBS Sports Network.

Three of those defeats have been this season, with two of them coming during a five-game losing streak in Mountain West play. Overall it’s been a rough transition to this league for the Aggies (15-9, 5-7), although they’ve recently bounced back with a three-game winning streak.

A big reason for that is the schedule. The losses were to the four teams picked to finish ahead of them, including a 20-point loss at the Thomas & Mack Center, plus a setback at Wyoming. Since that game, Utah State is on a three-game winning streak fueled by an improved shooting stroke.

Over those three games, the Aggies have hit 53.9 percent on 2-point attempts and 44.7 percent behind the 3-point line. Senior guard Preston Medlin has especially increased his usage and provided the Aggies an efficient scoring threat that’s been missing often this season.

With the way that Rice tends to game plan defensively, UNLV’s focus is likely going to be on keeping Utah State from getting comfortable on 3-point attempts. The Aggies were 2-for-17 from deep in the first meeting and finished with an ugly 0.72 points per possession.

There’s no way Utah State will shoot that poorly again, especially at home. But if the Rebels (16-8, 7-4) really focus on preventing that shot, it’s possible the Aggies won’t be able to live on the 3. The sacrifice with that plan is that the Rebels will likely leave Utah State’s post players in one-on-one situations against junior forward Khem Birch.

That’s a bet I think Rice is willing to make, but it only works if Birch actually stays near the basket. If the Aggies move him around like Colorado State did, then the lane is wide open for penetration and kick-outs.

Add on top of that that none of these Rebels has ever seen the Smith Spectrum environment before, and UNLV may not be able to take advantage of the recent losses at the top of the conference.

Bern’s prediction: The Rebels have a bad habit of overlooking teams like this: sub-.500 conference record, recent losing streak, plus a lopsided UNLV win in the first meeting. If the Rebels aren’t ready to play immediately, I think they may find themselves in too big a hole to get out of, and that’s exactly what I expect to happen. Utah State 73, UNLV 66

Season: ATS 16-8, O/U 16-6-2

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

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