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Rebels flash potential in exhibition win over Alaska Fairbanks

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Mikayla Whitmore

UNLV’s Cheikh Mbacke Diong (34) goes in for a dunk in an exhibition game against Alaska Fairbanks at the Thomas & Mack Center, Friday, Nov. 3, 2017.

UNLV Rebels vs Alaska Fairbanks

UNLV Rebels vs Alaska Fairbanks during an exhibition game at the Thomas & Mack Center, Friday, Nov. 3, 2017.. Launch slideshow »

Mbacke Diong provided the highlight of the night during UNLV’s exhibition win over Alaska Fairbanks on Friday, as the freshman big man cut to the basket midway through the second half, caught a bounce pass and elevated for a big one-handed dunk in traffic.

A few minutes later, the 6-foot-11 Diong found himself alone under the basket for a much easier finish, but this time he flubbed an uncontested dunk attempt and the ball caromed off the back of the rim. At the next whistle, Diong was subbed out.

That’s the kind of night it was for the Rebels, who pounded Alaska Fairbanks, 97-73. Marvin Menzies’ young, talented squad flashed its impressive potential, but also showed that there is still a lot of development to be done before the untested team is a finished product.

Junior college transfer Shakur Juiston was the star for UNLV, totaling a team-high 24 points on 9-of-11 shooting. Senior guard Jovan Mooring added 16 points, while senior point guard Jordan Johnson scored 15.

Alaska Fairbanks led for a good portion of the first half thanks to some hot 3-point shooting, but once the Nanooks cooled off, UNLV proved itself to be vastly superior to the Division II visitors, outscoring Alaska 55-36 in the second half.

Juiston was excited about the win, but kept things in perspective after the game and acknowledged that the Rebels have a long way to go.

“This was a learning game,” Juiston said. “We did a lot of good things, but we did a lot of bad things.”

One of the bright spots for the Rebels was their ability to push the pace. Alaska Fairbanks was outmatched physically, and UNLV used that advantage, with Johnson and the rest of the guards moving the ball upcourt as quickly as possible at every opportunity. UNLV finished the game with 80 possessions (the team averaged 72.7 possessions per game last season) and outscored Alaska 14-2 in fast-break points.

Johnson only finished with three assists, but he created several other baskets by playing at a high tempo.

“That’s what we work on in practice,” Johnson said. “Pushing pace, playing fast, speeding teams up.”

As expected, five-star freshman center Brandon McCoy didn’t play due to ankle soreness. Menzies said McCoy lobbied to play, but that the team didn’t want to risk re-aggravating his injury. With eight days off before the regular-season opener against Florida A&M, McCoy should be good to go.

Sophomore center Cheickna Dembele started in McCoy’s place, but it was Diong who stole the show. The Senegal native showed explosive athleticism on both ends of the court and finished with nine points, eight rebounds, three blocks, three assists and two steals in just 19 minutes. While Diong was on the floor, UNLV outscored Alaska by 27 points.

Freshman guard Amauri Hardy also produced in limited minutes, totaling 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting. Junior Kris Clyburn started at small forward but went scoreless (0-of-4 shooting) in 23 minutes.

For the game, UNLV shot 61.7 percent (37-of-60) and made 7-of-13 from 3-point range.

Alaska Fairbanks hit four of its first six 3-point attempts, but Menzies was pleased with the way the Rebels adhered to the defensive game plan and turned the second half into a blowout.

“The way it unfolded I think was good,” Menzies said. “To challenge them a little bit to see how they’re going to respond, I thought that was good. They did a good job of paying attention to the details that we gave them at halftime and came out and executed a lot better.”

Mike Grimala can be reached at 702-948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Mike on Twitter at twitter.com/mikegrimala.

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