Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013 | 11:06 p.m.
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.
- UNLV Extras: Can Rebels learn from victory against New Mexico?
- Four-star forward wowed by weekend trip to UNLV
- Motivated Rebels snap skid by controlling New Mexico in the Mack
- Instant Analysis: Rebels begin fixing what was broken in 9-point win against New Mexico
- Take 5: Resetting the storylines halfway through Mountain West play
- UNLV Extras: Assessing the damage after the Rebels drop to 4-4 in league play
- All UNLV men's basketball coverage
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.
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.