Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Friday, March 7, 2014 | 3:50 p.m.
The opponent, in this case UNR, is a challenge that’s moved a notch or two down the list of UNLV’s priorities. To win Saturday’s regular-season finale, the Rebels must first figure out how to block out the chaos swirling around their own program.
UNLV’s leading scorer and its leading rebounder will both stay in Las Vegas this weekend as the Rebels (19-11, 10-7) attempt to avoid only the fourth season sweep in series history against the Wolf Pack (14-16, 9-8). Third place in the Mountain West is on the line, yet that hardly seems to matter. There’s only a small difference between that slot and the 4-5 game, and at this point, just winning the game is more important for UNLV’s psyche than what it sets them up for next week.
“It’s always a distraction when someone goes down, whether it’s an injury or through a disciplinary situation,” said UNLV coach Dave Rice. “Guys understand that the business at hand is get ready to play.”
Rice announced on Thursday that junior guard Bryce Dejean-Jones would be suspended from the team through at least Sunday for conduct detrimental to the team. After a rough performance that included a confrontation on the bench once he was pulled with 1:41 remaining against No. 10 San Diego State, Dejean-Jones reportedly left the Thomas & Mack Center immediately before eventually returning to meet with his teammates and coaches.
It’s unclear exactly what moved Rice to suspend Dejean-Jones — leaving early or maybe something he said when he returned? — but the situation will be reevaluated once the team returns from Reno. At that point, they’ll figure out if Dejean-Jones will be with the team for next week’s Mountain West tournament at the Mack.
“I made a decision and we’re moving forward,” Rice said. “We appreciate the contributions Bryce made for our program, but we’ll meet on Monday and figure that out.”
Also staying behind this weekend is Roscoe Smith, who’s averaging 11 points and 11 rebounds this season. He suffered a concussion in the second half of UNLV’s game at Air Force and hasn’t been cleared to practice. On Friday, he was able to do some running and shooting at the Mendenhall Center, and Rice said he expects Smith to clear the NCAA’s concussion protocol in time to return to practice Monday.
That means a lot of minutes are up for grabs, as Dejean-Jones and Smith averaged a combined 56.5 minutes per game in conference play. Rice said junior Jelan Kendrick, who declined to speak to the media, would start in place of Dejean-Jones.
Kendrick has had an unremarkable season overall but is on a nice stretch lately, averaging 10.3 points on 60 percent shooting, 3.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists over the last three games.
“I have no doubt that he’ll play well,” Rice said of Kendrick.
Freshman guard Kendall Smith will be the first wing off the bench, Rice said, but the coach is still figuring out who will start in place of Roscoe Smith at power forward. Against SDSU on Senior Night, that was Carlos Lopez-Sosa, who finished with four points, five rebounds and three fouls in 11 minutes. Most of the time (30 minutes) went to freshman Christian Wood, who had eight points and seven rebounds but struggled on offense, missing seven shots and all three 3-point attempts.
“It’s about some other guys for us getting an opportunity,” Rice said.
Those are some of the internal things the Rebels are dealing with right now. And that doesn’t even get into the challenge of containing the Senior Night performance of UNR’s Deonte Burton, whose dunk in a double-overtime victory against Boise State earned No. 1 on Sportscenter’s Top 10 plays Saturday night.
“He’s an NBA player,” Rice said. “He’s going to make some of those contested shots; we just can’t let him get all the way to the rim.”
Easier said than done, especially with depleted personnel. That’s the hand the Rebels have been dealt or, depending on your view, the one they’ve dealt themselves.