UNLV: 5-0. AP Rank 24. ESPN Rank 21. BP Rank 34. RPI 5. BPI 62.
Arizona: 3-2. AP Rank NR. ESPN Ran NR. BP Rank NR. RPI 52. BPI 150.
UNLV: If the Rebels could petition the NCAA (yeah, like they’ve never done that before) to play five guards against five guards, they would have to be considered a fixture in this year’s Final Four. Tre’von Willis, Oscar Bellfield, Derrick Jasper and Justin Hawkins combine to average more than half of the Rebels’ points a game. Jasper has to feel like he’s been bathing in aloe after the Gillispie acid bath he went through at Kentucky and it’s showing in his play – he’s a matchup nightmare at point guard. Willis is second on the team in rebounding at five per game but if he’s having an off-night the Vegas boys don’t despair – Bellfield has proven he can be the leader late in the game.
Arizona: Nic Wise wisely decided to come back following footsie with the NBA draft. He is the go-to guy in the backcourt and won’t get a great deal of support until youngsters Brendon Lavender and Kyle Fogg gain more experience.
UNLV: In a lot of ways these are the unsung heroes of the UNLV universe. Matt Shaw is one of those players you don’t miss until he’s not there to do the dirty work. Darris Santee had some big plays down the stretch against Louisville and Chace Stanback does everything well but shoot. However, there is no true center that gets playing time on the roster.
Arizona: Here’s the strength that will provide a good contrast with tonight’s matchup. No Jordan Hill? That’s all right. Solomon Hill is starting to fill those shoes nicely with a little help from Jamelle Horne and superfrosh Derrick Williams. If hyped center Kyryl Natyazhko proves the promise this could be a formidable unit in March. Keep in mind this is a young group that is prone to fouls.
UNLV: Like a lot of successful college coaches Lon Kruger briefly tried his hand at the NBA before realizing he belonged back on campus. He’s gone to the Final Four with Florida and nearly went there with Kansas State. He’s good at adjusting to his personnel while maintaining a relatively calm demeanor on the sidelines.
Arizona: Tucson’s faithful had to breath a sigh of relief when Kevin O’Neill decided to go elsewhere in the Pac-10 and the best dribbler in Tonight Show history took over as coach, though without the cheesy mustache he sported during his playing days at Pitt. Sean Miller has already proved he has a deft recruiting touch – don’t be surprised to see the Desert ‘Cats back in the second weekend of the Dance by next season at the latest.
In a night of intriguing matchups (Cal-New Mexico, Florida State-Ohio State, Wisconsin-Duke) this one stood out to me because of the contrast in stronger units. Fogg and/or Lavender will have their hands full with either Jasper, Bellfield or Hawkins. Shaw and Co. will have to do mandatory overtime with the tall cacti of ‘Zona.
What makes the difference? UNLV has yet to go on the road. ‘Zona is back in Tucson following a suspect road trip and has had a week to recover. This one goes down to the wire but look for a mild upset.
Final Score: Arizona 76, UNLV 72 (in OT).