UNLV men’s basketball faces the Benedictine Mesa Redhaws of Arizona on Thursday, January 21st at 5:00 pm PT. Watch it LIVE on YurView LV – Cox Channel 14 for customers in Las Vegas. The game is only available for customers in Nevada. Stream the game live on the Mountain West Digital Network
UNLV looks to crash the boards and crush their second NAIA opponent, but it may not be that easy.
UNLV (4-6, 2-2) will try to continue their hot streak of three straight wins when they face their second NAIA team of the season, Benedictine University of Mesa (1-6, 0-0) as they take a one-game break from Mountain West Conference play.
After a slow scoring start, the Rebels are living up to their name and picking up their scoring pace, scoring 95 points versus NAIA opponent St. Katherine, as well as 80 points in a loss against Colorado State on Jan. 9 and 77 points versus New Mexico on Jan. 16. However, the Rebels barely broke 50 their last game, but will certainly get back to their high scoring output against Benedictine.
The game is the third in four days and fourth of six home games in a row for UNLV, which is their longest homestand of the season. A clean sweep of the homestand dramatically changes the directory of the season, with eyes toward the Mountain West Conference postseason tournament and a possible birth in the NCAA or NIT Tournament.
After a 60-point victory against St. Katherine and back-to-back wins versus New Mexico, the Rebels can’t have a false sense of security against Benedictine University of Mesa, which is playing its fifth game of the season against a Division I program. Benedictine University has kept games close against both University of Texas, El-Paso and San Jose State University, so they won’t be intimidated for Thursday’s game at UNLV.
Here is a preview of the midseason non-conference clash:
Division I Dealings. Benedictine University at Mesa is welcoming the matchup at UNLV, as their losing point margin with each matchup with their previous four Division I opponents has gotten smaller, from 31 to 28 to 20 down to 16 points in their last matchup against San Jose State.
Can they continue to close the gap against UNLV? Maybe a loss of 12 points, or maybe even pulling off the ultimate upset?
“We have six players from Las Vegas, so this means a lot and is a great opportunity to bring exposure to both our men’s basketball program and our university,” said Benedictine University at Mesa head basketball coach Frank Woodford. “We feel like we have the opportunity to build something special here at our program.”
Bigger Backcourt. Benedictine University has size with its wing guards and forwards, so UNLV will need to use its size advantage in its backcourt to post up the smaller guards on the block when running its half-court offense as well as creating a rebounding advantage.
Look for UNLV to script several plays early in the game to take full advantage of their bigger guards, which may also include high/low offensive play calls during half-court offensive sets.
This could mean big scoring outputs from guards Bryce Hamilton, David Jenkins, Jr. and Caleb Grill. The trio averages over 47 points per game during the season, expect the trio to score 60 or more during Thursday’s matchup.
Weak-side rebounding. Benedictine University coach Woodford readily admits that his wing players, namely guard/forward Bryce Cheney and forward Nick Sessions are going to have to have big shooting nights to pull off the upset against UNLV.
“We have to knock down shots from long distance,” said Woodford. “We have size and speed to score in transition and three-point range.”
Against UNLV’s last NAIA opponent, St. Katherine, UNLV dominated the boards with a 30-rebound advantage, 46 to 16, led by forward Cheikh Mbacke Diong’s 10 rebounds. A bigger Benedictine University team should be able to narrow the rebound deficit to about 20, making their outside shooting all the more important.
Second-half stamina. If the game is close at halftime, look for UNLV to try to push the tempo in the second half to pull away from Benedictine University, who will already have a starter missing from Thursday’s game. UNLV’s deeper bench could lead to a second half run to pull away if the game is still in contention at halftime.
Game Analysis. A helter-skelter game benefits Benedictine University, so expect UNLV to stick to tightly scripted plays when in its half-court offense and attempt to force turnovers for easy buckets that could lead to an easy win. But Benedictine University is no stranger to Division I opponents and will attempt to close the gap to pull off a monumental upset.
Rodric Bradford is a Las Vegas sports, entertainment and business writer and has served as a correspondent for over a dozen Las Vegas media outlets. A longtime member of the Nevada Hotel Lodging Association, he can be found on Twitter @j_rodric.