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UNLV basketball:

Rebels on the fringe of national top-25 polls

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L.E. Baskow

UNLV fans on a bachelorette party announce their support during their basketball game versus Oregon at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Friday, December 4, 2015.

Coming off their second victory against a top-15 foe, the Rebels enter their first true road game of the season on the fringe of both national top-25 polls.

UNLV (7-1) received 33 votes in the USA Today Coaches Poll, placing them 28th overall. In the Associated Press’ poll, the Rebels received 40 votes and slotted in at 30th, one spot ahead of UCLA.

The Rebels’ only loss of the season came to the Bruins by two in their first game of the Maui Jim Maui Invitational. Since then, UNLV has won four straight, including victories against then-No. 13 Indiana and then-No. 15 Oregon. The Hoosiers have dropped out of both polls, while the Ducks fell to No. 24 and No. 23 in the AP and coaches polls, respectively.

This week, UNLV heads on the road to Wichita State, which was ranked in the top 10 in the preseason. The Shockers (3-4) have stumbled without senior point guard Fred Van Vleet, who returned from a hamstring injury over the weekend and is expected to play against the Rebels.

One of the main guys charged with stopping Van Vleet will be last week’s Mountain West Player of the Week Pat McCaw, and someone the Rebels will need at the offensive end in Wichita received this week’s honor. Senior guard Ike Nwamu scored a game-high 19 points in the 80-69 victory against Oregon, earning Player of the Week honors off that game alone.

It’s the first time Rebel teammates have won outright Mountain West Player of the Week honors in back-to-back weeks since Jerel Blassingame and Odartey Blankson did it in March 2004.

Nwamu shot 7 of 9 from the floor against Oregon, including 5 of 7 from 3-point range, and continued a personal breakout that started in the victory against Indiana. Nwamu scored 16 on 11 shots in that game, though missed free throws and a couple late-game errors marred the performance a bit.

With that shrugged off his enormous shoulders, Nwamu is starting to take on a bigger role for the Rebels. It’s what many envisioned when the 6-foot-5, 210-pound guard used the graduate transfer waiver to gain immediate eligibility for a final season at UNLV after starring at Mercer.

After Wichita State, it’s another true road game for the Rebels at UC Riverside, a home game against Arizona State, which just knocked Texas A&M out of the AP poll, and then a road game at No. 13 Arizona. The Wildcats have three winnable home games between now and then, so it should be another opportunity for the Rebels to take down a top-15 team.

How high UNLV is ranked by then depends entirely on taking care of business this week, starting with Wichita State.

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

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